Detroit Pistons forward, Sekou Doumbouya is the youngest player in the NBA this season at 19. The versatile and athletic 6’9” forward was taken with the 15th pick in the NBA Draft after spending his early professional years developing in France.
He signed his first contract at age 15, coming off a performance in the 2016 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship performance where he was a pivotal piece in helping the French National Team bring home the gold medal. That team also featured current New York Knicks point guard, Frank Ntilikina.
Doumbouya often had long stretches of play where he looked like the best player on the court, despite being the youngest player in the competition.
After starting off with Poitiers Basket 86 of LNB Pro B (the second-tier league in France), he left for Limoges CSP and LNB Pro A in 2018 to face stronger competition as he angled towards making the leap to the NBA.
His play was uneven, unfortunately, and he did not really put his stamp on games when he was on the court. This poor showing caused teams to sour on him, which is why he remained on the board past the lottery selections despite having all the telltale signs of potential stardom and plenty of backstory hype.
Though clearly raw, Doumbouya looks like he was molded to be a player in today’s league. He’s a piece of lanky clay in the most complimentary sense right now.
Detroit’s lack of luck with Blake Griffin’s health has allowed for the rookie forward to see the court more than initially projected prior to the start of the season. Now cemented in the starting lineup, he has done just enough to provide the franchise with hope for the future.
This poster dunk, now seen around the Internet, occurred in his fourth career start as he rose up and thundered in a slam right on top of an unsuspecting Tristan Thompson.
Again, this is a raw player but one who seems perfectly situated to maximize his experience with his talent as he goes, and this was the moment Doumbouya announced his presence to the league.
During his five games as a starter, he’s averaged 12 points and 5.8 rebounds in 30.5 minutes while shooting 38.9 percent on three-pointers. The numbers are even more impressive when considering the players that he was matched up against in a few of those games: including defensive stalwarts like Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
As positionless basketball continues to take over the league, Doumbouya’s ability to impact the game from virtually every spot on the floor allows him to remain on the court regardless of who coach Dwayne Casey wants in the lineup. Given the rash of injuries that Detroit has dealt with this season, the number of different players who have seen playing time has been unpredictable from night-to-night.
Doumbouya’s potential is what stands out, but the reason that he has been able to have an immediate impact this early into his first season? His solid grasp on the game’s fundamentals. (Playing professionally in Europe has meant he’s not starstruck or mentally overwhelmed with many of the NBA’s schemes.)
Doumbouya is a rangy athlete with long arms and quick-twitch movement, so mastering those basics provides him with an edge over most defenders, especially fellow youngsters. A simple right hook for him is much more effective than it would be for average-sized players.
That foundation comes from his footwork. He isn’t the strongest physically, but because of his ability to craftily maneuver around defenders with drop steps and pivots, he gets good looks off around the hoop against bigger defenders.
He’s been impressive defensively too. Despite being rail-thin, he refuses to get pushed around in the interior when guarding bigger opponents. There’s a nice understanding of leverage instilled already.
Combine that will with Doumbouya’s explosive leaping and he’s fared well when tasked with defending the rim. He’s too eager at times, however, jumping himself out of position on pump fakes or rotating too early and leaving the glass unprotected. That’s basic “young guy” stuff, and one can bet that continued coaching and experience will polish those bad habits away in time.
The biggest plus comes from Doumbouy’s ability to switch onto wings and guards on the perimeter. His long arms and lateral quickness let him defend against smaller players, and he also approaches these switches with an aggressive mentality. Oftentimes, he will attack the smaller player before they are able to get their momentum headed downhill. True modern-game big man stuff.
This is similar to what we’ve seen from Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors, who has developed from a late first-round pick to Most Improved Player to potential All-Star starter this year. The Cameroonian’s progression shouldn’t be considered normal for all players, but with Casey having some first-hand experience coaching Siakam during his time in Toronto, there is a connection between the two that’s deeper than their similar physical measurements and African heritage.
If Doumbouya hopes to reach that level, it is going to take more than just five games starting to earn that reputation. He’s got the attention of the basketball world, but now it is on him to capitalize on this opportunity. The Pistons, 14-25, are unlikely to make the playoffs even though the Eastern Conference is wide-open after the first six seeds.
As long as the fans and front office aren’t having delusions of grandeur about what this season should have been, there will be all the chance in the world for Doumbouya to get valuable exposure and experience during his first year in the NBA.
Expect some bumps along the way, but that’s what these kinds of opportunities are for.
Do this correctly, and Detroit will soon have a rising star on a rookie deal—the rarest of rare in the league. Doumbouya can unlock a better future for a franchise that’s been middling ever since the Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace core slowly dispersed. Though Doumbouya’s timeline likely does not coincide with current Pistons stars like Griffin and Andre Drummond, that’s a different story (and decision) for a different time (i.e. likely this offseason).
Finding a franchise player is incredibly difficult, but if Doumbouya continues to play this way while progressing over the next couple seasons, then the Pistons’ teenager might be the next big thing in Detroit.
Brandon Jefferson is a freelance writer at The Basketball Writers. He covers the Atlanta Hawks for The BBall Index and is a contributing writer at Fansided. Brandon is the founding and only member of the Kevin Durant Stan Club.