French teenager Sekou Doumbouya will likely be the youngest player and first international prospect picked in the 2019 NBA Draft.
With physical gifts that capture general managers’ imaginations and an early knack for improving, the 18-year-old forward has rightfully earned lottery buzz.
Like most overseas youngsters, Doumbouya is somewhat of a mystery and far from a sure bet. His athleticism, energetic playing style and promising shooting generated interesting comparisons. Some pundits and fans see flashes of fellow European Giannis Antetokounmpo, while others see glimpses of Pascal Siakam, Luol Deng or Al-Farouq Aminu. However, Doumbouya has a lot of sharpening to do in order to resemble any of them.
What exactly does he bring to the Association right now, and what could he potentially offer down the road?
Doumbouya flexed an increasing aptitude for besieging the bucket during his stints with French second-tier club Poitiers and top-level LNB Pro A CSP Limoges. His agile 6-foot-9 frame and terrific coordination could make him an elite NBA finisher as well.
I’m not talking about crafty dribble-drives and weaving to the rim. He’s not there yet. Think more along the lines of catch-and-score plays in early offense or transition, or one-dribble forays that showcase his power and touch around the rim.
Unlike some wings and forwards his age, Doumbouya is strong in traffic and challenges defenders to slow him down. He’s already 230 pounds, and his body type indicates he could become even more muscular without sacrificing explosiveness.
Doumbouya will be a valuable scoring weapon in space, but don’t expect him to create separation off the bounce soon. Moves like crossovers, hesitations and spins are not second nature yet. In fact, he still struggles to see the floor when putting the ball on the deck, especially with his left hand.
Based on recent workouts, it looks like he’s trying to polish his step-back move, but it’s not consistently effective in games. Fortunately, he moves alertly without the ball and will find ways to score without dribbling.
Although his shot-creating is raw, his shooting stroke is promising. Doumbouya displays nice follow-through touch on his jump shot. He’s shown flashes of three-point success from the international arc, including a 5-of-7 outburst in mid-May against Paris-Levallois.
Doumbouya made steady shooting progress in each of the past three campaigns for Limoges, which is quite encouraging for future development since he’s only 18. His three-point percentage, field-goal percentage and true-shooting percentage have gone up every season since 2016. His 2018-19 true shooting percentage across all leagues is 56.4, which is promising, given his mix of perimeter and interior play.
Doumbouya’s non-scoring skills and potential are a mixed bag, and this is where his NBA outlook gets a little puzzling. He could become a good screener and decent passer down the road, but he needs a lot of refinement. Both his court vision and basketball IQ are lacking at this stage—that might hinder his development and put a cap on his versatility.
It’s not that Doumbouya is a ball-hog or a ball-stopper. He shares the rock and looks for ways to keep the team’s ball movement going. He just doesn’t always see passing opportunities soon enough, and the window is often closed by the time he diagnoses things. When he’s driving to the hoop, he rarely finds cutters or kicks the ball out to shooters. After all, he only averaged 0.7 assists in 18.1 minutes per contest.
Some young prospects turn into serviceable ball-movers by sharpening key functions like short-roll passing. Others never really get the feel for the flow of the offense, and it hurts their overall value. It remains to be seen whether Doumbouya develops substantially in this department.
For now, he has a long climb in order to become a valuable collaborator. His best avenue to a non-scoring impact right now is crashing the offensive glass, providing rim-diving gravity and stretching the floor.
Defensive tools and potential
Doumbouya is not lethal enough on offense to warrant minutes regardless of his defense—and he might never get to that level offensively. So if he wants a major role in the league, he must take advantage of his athleticism to become a multi-positional defender.
He owns the requisite agility to check most NBA small forwards, and he’s tall and strong enough to tangle with many 4’s and small-ball centers. Doumbouya also uses his athleticism to battle for rebounds.
Unfortunately, his footwork and assertiveness waver, and there might be a steep learning curve for him to guard NBA scorers. LNB Pro A isn’t even Europe’s top league, so defending NBA attackers could take a sizable adjustment.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer explained that Doumbouya’s defensive shortcomings manifest themselves in poor footwork and inconsistent energy: “(Doumbouya) defends flat-footed, which slows him down laterally, and falls out of his stance, putting his hands down or wildly opening his hips when changing directions…He goes from sprinting in transition to taking breathers and failing to contest shots; his conditioning may need to improve, too.”
Despite the inconsistency, Doumbouya’s flashes of defensive versatility and ranginess will continue to entice NBA executives and coaches. If he improves his effort and movement, he could guard up to three positions.
His ceiling on that end is still extremely lofty, and the upside is worth mid-to-late lottery interest.
If Doumbouya lands in an optimal ecosystem, he could get minutes within the first couple of seasons as a third or fourth offensive option and an energy rebounder. By year two, he could get 20 minutes per game and serve as the 7th or 8th man on a fringe playoff team. His scoring production will hinge largely on his shooting efficiency.
On the downside, he could get drafted by the wrong club and fail to gain a foothold. Sometimes it’s tough for young prospects to earn a legitimate role in the league after a failed rookie partnership.
Either way, he might have to spend time in the G-League polishing away his rough edges.
There are a wider range of possible outcomes for Doumbouya than most 2019 prospects. That’s why he’s one of the draft’s greatest enigmas.
There’s a chance he could struggle to develop and become consistent, thereby bouncing around the league looking for an optimal fit. But there’s also tangible potential for him to tap into his explosiveness on both ends and become a star.
He’s well worth the risk anywhere past the 7-8 range in this year’s draft, because there are only about a half-dozen players with more upside in the entire class.
Doumbouya’s optimistic-yet-modest outlook is that he could be a crucial secondary contributor on a strong playoff team. If his shooting and slashing skills continue to improve, he could be the second or third scoring option. His mix of above-the-rim finishing, outside shooting and end-to-end athleticism could make him a truly valuable starter along the lines of current Al-Farouq Aminu or even Chicago Bulls-era Luol Deng.
Meanwhile, Doumbouya’s absolute best-case scenario is in the All-Star neighborhood. However, it will take a lot of work, a long time and the right environment to cultivate that result.
Cases like his are what make the draft so fascinating.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball