Why Detroit Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya might head back to the G League

Detroit Pistons Sekou Doumbouya. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Sekou Doumbouya. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Detroit Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya only played eight minutes against the Brooklyn Nets and he might be going back to the G League to regain confidence.

Sekou Doumbouya only played eight minutes for the Detroit Pistons against the Brooklyn Nets and head coach Dwane Casey suggested that he might be going back to the G League to regain confidence, according to media reports.

In Brooklyn, Casey pulled Doumbouya to the bench early in the first quarter as the Nets built a 12-point lead. The Pistons quickly made up for the difference and were even able to take the lead in the second quarter while Doumbouya was looking from the bench.

The 19-year-old rookie started the second half and the Nets quickly built up a lead again. Casey benched him once again and he didn’t play a single minute after that. The Pistons suffered a 20-point deficit for the eight minutes he was on the floor.

Doumbouya has seen a slight decrease in his minutes gradually which culminated with his coach saying that they might send him back to the G League so that he regains his confidence. In the last seven games, he’s averaged 3.9 points per game on 24.3% shooting in 22.3 minutes per game.

The Pistons’ injuries during the season allowed Doumbouya to get a crack at the rotation and with Markieff Morris and Blake Griffin out, he even got a starting role. He performed extremely well as a starter which led the coaching staff to keep him in the opening lineup even when Morris came back.

However, his minutes have been decreased since then, as he has more competition for the position. At the same time, his performance has dropped. There’s a case to be made here that worrying about playing time was a part of that. But I won’t be making that case.

Many fans have advocated that he should be getting big minutes and finishing games regardless of the score. “You either win with the young guys or lose with the young guys,” they say. And that’s a valid point.

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On a rebuilding team like the Pistons, you need players with potential developing their game on the floor. But they should also be held accountable for their performance. Creating competition within the roster is very motivating when team chemistry is good.

Look at what happened with Christian Wood. Fans were enraged when Thon Maker was getting minutes over him. Casey saw the talent in Wood but he also saw a lack of effort and attention to detail. So he gave his minutes to the guy that tries too hard.

And what did that accomplish? Wood is now playing better than ever and he has improved a ton over the course of half a season. Of course, not all credit goes to the coach but he definitely played a big part.

On the same note, Casey holds the rookie accountable, not for his rookie mistakes, but his overall demeanor. When Doumbouya was late for shootaround before the game against the Sacramento Kings, he got benched. However, he still finished that game.

If you watched Casey’s latest postgame interview, you know that he doesn’t have a problem with the missed three’s or the turnovers. The Pistons coach has continuously expressed that mistakes are part of the process.

It’s his effort and confidence. That’s not to say that Doumbouya has been slacking. To the contrary. He just hasn’t shown that same kind of elite motor he displayed when he first got the chance to start, which is crucial if he wants to become the best he can be.

Trying harder than everybody else is how Doumbouya can separate himself from the pack and fulfill his potential and Casey knows this. That’s how Pascal Siakam managed to become a star in such a short time.

And it’s not like Casey pulls him out of the game whenever he makes a mistake as many suggest. That’s not my impression at all. What I’ve noticed is that when players, like Morris or Wood, come off the bench and perform well, they get to stay in longer and even finish games.

That’s a good message coming from the coaching staff and does a lot to instill a sense of meritocracy. Doumbouya shouldn’t be granted a spot in the finishing lineup just because the team is rebuilding.

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While the Pistons as an organization don’t have much incentive to win games right now, embracing losing from a coaching standpoint is probably the worst thing that can happen to a team.

When that happens, players lose interest, as we’ve recently seen happening, they stop playing the right way, they don’t defend as hard and internal development and chemistry suffer for it.

Doumbouya’s slump could be explained in part by the team’s recent poor play. In his first nine starts, when he was consistently getting more than 28 minutes per game, the Pistons won four of those games.

The Pistons have won one out of six games since then with Doumbouya getting significantly fewer minutes. You can say that him playing less is what caused the losses but the numbers wouldn’t support that. You can also say that the two are unrelated.

Well, in my estimation, all the trade rumors and Griffin shutting down for the season have affected team play and the rookie is the most affected. It’s not just that they’re losing. They’ve been losing all season. They’re playing really bad basketball.

That’s why Casey always emphasizes building a winning culture. When adversity hits, you want your players to fight even harder and play through it. The last thing you need is for them to quit on the team.

That’s starting to happen already and Casey has the tough job of keeping the locker room together. Sidelining the veterans in favor of the youngsters just sends the wrong message. It’s much more important for young players to learn that winning is always the goal.

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Putting him in situations where he has to come in the middle of the fourth quarter while the team is trying to erase a double-digit deficit might not be the best path for his growth. Especially when he has been playing poorly.

When Doumbouya is playing well, he should get more minutes. The coaching staff has shown trust in him to finish games in those situations. Even in close games.

And they’ve assigned him difficult tasks on defense. Not only has he been put in a position to guard players like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard but he’s also been asked to switch onto guards like Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. That takes trust.

That’s too much for a teenager to take in and it was a certainty that there would be fluctuations in his performance. What matters is how he responds. He has to learn that in slumps like this, he’s the only one that can pull himself out.

In the last few games, he’s been indecisive, to say the least. This next clip is the best example of his recent disposition. Andre Drummond clearly tries to hand it off to him but Doumbouya doesn’t even try to catch the ball.

That’s confusion at it’s best. It’s clear that Doumbouya is in his head right now. It’s not all on him of course. The situation around him hasn’t helped at all.

The easy transition looks he was getting are not there and finding lanes to cut is more difficult now that teams pay more attention to him. He’s not capable with the ball in his hands yet and he has to rely on others to get him good shots, which hasn’t been the case as of late.

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In addition, the injuries have killed any kind of continuity the Pistons were trying to build. In the last 15 games, he’s played in more different lineups that I can count, lineups with very different pieces in them.

He’s played two different positions with four very different point guards and three different centers on a team that’s in a downward spiral.  Just take a moment to think how overwhelming that is for a teenager that doesn’t even know the language that well.

Taking him away from the situation to give him time to process could prove very therapeutic, which is probably why they’re thinking of sending him back to the Grand Rapids Drive. There, he can get a lot of practice and playing time in a comfortable setting.

The Pistons should stay patient with Doumbouya and focus on him building the right habits. There’s no reason to keep pushing him now that he’s underperforming. He has plenty of time to grow and he’ll get even more playing time after the trade deadline.

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