Detroit Pistons: Sekou Doumbouya’s break out game against the Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 15: Sekou Doumbouya #45 of the Detroit Pistons defends a shot from Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 15, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Pistons defeat the Celtics 116-103. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 15: Sekou Doumbouya #45 of the Detroit Pistons defends a shot from Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 15, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Pistons defeat the Celtics 116-103. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Detroit Pistons’ rookie Sekou Doumbouya has impressed in the eight games he has started. Against the Boston Celtics, his potential was in full display.

He scored a career-high 24 points, making 10 of his 13 field goals and 2 out of 5 three-pointers in 28 minutes in his 8th start for the Detroit Pistons.

After the draft, I wrote a piece called “Setting realistic expectations for Sekou Doumbouya” and I’m glad to say, he’s already surpassed those. Who thought that a 19-year-old rookie from France would be that good so soon?

And I’m not just talking about the highlight plays and the three-point making ability. We already knew that he could do that. I’m talking about all the little things. The awareness, the effort, the footwork, the crafty finishes.

Doumbouya’s improvement has been really impressive so far and he was most impressive in Boston, so let’s dive into the film already.

The Pistons’ rookie has shot 41.4 percent on 5.9 attempts per 100 possessions, which is rare for a player his size. Most importantly, he’s shown that he’s very comfortable spotting up and getting his shot off quickly.

His arsenal is not limited to stationary shots. He’s shown great capacity to find the three-point line on the move and hop into his normal shooting form. That means he can already be used as a pick and pop threat and get easy looks.

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That’s one of the biggest things about Doumbouya so far. He doesn’t need the ball at all to score. He’s averaging 14 points per game on 16.9 percent usage and he’s doing that with great efficiency exactly because he sees the cracks in the defense. He knows where to be to collect easy points.

He’s getting a ton of points off cuts, more than any Piston in recent memory. He’ll cut when there’s an open lane and when someone else cuts there before him, he’ll stop and try to fill the gap. He has a great understanding of spacing and passing angles that leads to him getting open often.

Of course, NBA defenses don’t give him the respect he deserves yet, which makes life easier for him but that will soon change. Fortunately, we’ll be here to analyze how he handles the pressure.

In the next clip, he leans towards the paint when his defender helps off him and while the lob is open. Then, he quickly pops to the three-point line when the ball is reversed and there’s an open three to be had.

He could have stayed in the corner from the start but that extra movement makes a difference. Always searching for the best possible shot goes a long way. Having played in Europe, he’s built good habits and learned to play the right way.

In contrast, college players, especially the good ones, tend to be more self-involved as they’ve lived their life being the best player on the court and having the ball in their hands. Then, reality hits them when they get into the NBA and they’re not as good comparatively.

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Doumbouya is already past that phase and it shows. Instead of asking for the ball, he finds ways to be productive without it and that’s going to help him get the playing time he needs to develop. He’s not trying to prove that he’s as good as the other guys. He just plays his game and that’s refreshing as hell.

He’s also very focused and meticulous. He won’t cut uncontrollably but wait for the right time. He’ll take a step forward, survey the floor and he always keeps his eyes on the ball. That sounds simple but it’s not a given, especially for rookies.

When Derrick Rose gets a ball screen, the Celtics load up the strong side, so he tries to get behind the defense but Rose makes the skip pass right away. The rookie has enough awareness to get back to the corner and quickly find Andre Drummond with a bounce pass.

He sees the floor, he reads the defense and makes the simple play. That’s a major theme when talking about Doumbouya’s game. The European teaching method is more team-centric, so that’s not that surprising but it usually takes away from the player’s individual skill level.

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In this case, not so much. Doumbouya has already displayed impeccable footwork on both ends and an ability to shoot, drive and finish with both hands more capably than most prospects his age. We haven’t seen advanced ball-handling moves or difficult passes yet but that would be too much to ask from a 6’9″ wing.

The next play truly shows how skilled he already is. He splits his feet while in the air which allows him to explode as soon as he touches the ground. He lowers his body to create more acceleration and bumps Kemba Walker out of the play.

He then spins around him and catches the ball in both hands before establishing a pivot foot while also raising the ball above his head to protect it. That allows him to pivot once again to create the space he needs to finish with his off-hand off the glass. Perfect execution.

All those details matter and having them down at such an early stage of his career says a lot about his commitment and work ethic. He’s consistently shown the same level of footwork on post-ups as well.

Whenever he gets a smaller defender on him, he’ll get to the low block and work his way to the basket. Punishing switches is a necessity in the modern NBA for and Doumbouya is not afraid to take it to the rim or shoot over smaller players. He attacks right away before the defense can help and finishes with great touch.

Running the floor is also a huge thing about Doumbouya. He never stops moving and when the floor is open he runs hard. It’s how he got that post up against Walker in the first place. That’s how he played in France and it has translated to the NBA as well.

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Playing against world-class athletes doesn’t seem to bother him much as he can outrun those too. Watch how he gets a head start on this next play, guarding Jaylen Brown in the corner. As soon as he sees that Bruce Brown Jr. will get the board, he’s out of there.

Now watch him get back on defense on the same type of play when Brown is guarding him in the corner. He gets the best of him both times by reacting to the play more quickly. Let’s also keep in mind that Brown is considered to be a smart defender and a great athlete.

The Celtics could have had an easy look if Doumbouya didn’t run back—most Pistons struggle with that—but they turn it over instead. Even more impressive is what comes after. Doumbouya is also there to dunk the ball before it’s even out of the rim.

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That level of awareness and effort is pretty rare and it’s a thing to keep an eye on. It’s what will separate him from the rest. His motor was a question during the draft and he has emphatically answered it by consistently making plays where he just tries harder than everybody else.

And don’t you just love when players refuse to get screened? Dying on screens is a common problem for rookies but not this one. He just tries and tries to get around the bodies and he doesn’t stop until he’s in front of his man again.

Below, his opponent does an excellent job of keeping him on his back but Doumbouya just won’t quit. He slides his feet trying to get around Brown, always connected with him, not allowing him to get an easy look.

He completes the play with a block from behind but the referee calls a not so obvious foul probably because of his off-hand. A minor mistake that probably wouldn’t have been called if he wasn’t a rookie.

And when Gordon Hayward slips this ball screen, he does an excellent job of beating him to his spot with long strides. Even more impressive is the fact that he remains vertical and doesn’t foul. That’s effort, attention to detail and composure right there.

Most rookies are terrible on defense. And even the good ones make plenty of mistakes on that end. Bruce Brown Jr. made mistakes all the time last year even though he was 22 years old and defense was his calling card.

Doumbouya is 19 and I don’t see him making the same kind of mistakes. At least, so far. He doesn’t bite on pump fakes, head fakes, hesitation moves. He doesn’t leave his feet until his opponent leaves his. He doesn’t lose sight of his man or the ball.

He’s got all that down already which allows him to work even further on his game. With the speed of his improvement, there’s no telling where his ceiling lies. His learning curve is off the charts which furthermore proves that he’s a high IQ player that cares and works the right way.

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Combine that with his physical tools and shooting ability and you get the future of the franchise right in front of your screens. So keep an eye out for Sekou Doumbouya. Not just the highlight plays but the little things as well.