The Pistons' mistakes with Sekou Doumbouya and how to avoid them in the future
The truth is that Sekou Doumbouya was a bad draft pick.
Not because of hindsight bias. Not because of anything inherently wrong with Sekou. It's because of the Pistons - who they were as a franchise, where they were in their roster building, their development plan (or lack thereof) - that Sekou was a bad pick.
Remember back to the summer of 2019 for the Pistons. They had hired Ed Stefanski the previous year as an advisor to find a replacement general manager for the Stan Van Gundy/Jeff Bower front office, and he...kinda hired himself.
Stefanski was basically a placeholder, bringing in Dwane Casey and basically maintaining the status quo of Van Gundy's core of Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond, sneaking into the playoffs that first season. They decided to run it back, adding Derrick Rose and Tony Snell to the mix in hopes of a, I guess, more middling playoff team.
That was the environment Doumbouya was drafted into. A quixotic win-now team that would go on to win just 20 games while the team's leaders of Griffin and Drummond phoned the season in.
Whenever you draft a 19 year old prospect, you need to be prepared to be patient. You need to have a long-term plan for developing them. You need to provide stability.
The Pistons weren't prepared to offer Doumbouya any of that.
Stefanski was on his way out as general manager. The plan was never for Stefanski to be the final choice as GM.
The entire process with Stefanski was weird. First, he was brought on to find a GM. But that hiring never came, and Stefanski was just generally referred to as the guy in charge of roster decisions. Then the search was for top GM candidates, but they would report to Stefanski. Guys like Shane Battier, Gersson Rosas, or Chauncey Billups had little interest in taking a GM job that didn't really come with true autonomy.
Eventually Stefanski stepped aside for Troy Weaver to make the team in his own vision. But the timing never made sense for a player like Sekou. It was a win-now team and a lame-duck GM. It was always destined to end this way.
Besides, there were plenty of NBA ready players available with the 15 pick of that 2019 NBA Draft. Brandon Clarke was the obvious one. Clarke had been a star player for a terrific Gonzaga team, looked like a two-way player who could fit in right away at a position of need for the Pistons, and had dropped from being a projected top 10 pick. He stepped in right away as a rookie and played a key role at power forward for a surprising Grizzlies team.
Meanwhile, the Pistons were screwed when Blake Griffin came into the season unsurprisingly still hobbled after playing injured in the playoffs the previous season. Clarke would have been helpful both during that season of trying for the playoffs and also as part of the inevitable Pistons rebuild.
Wouldn't Clarke look great next to this new core of Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart?
Sure, Clarke was seen as low-upside considering his age whereas folks were excited about Doumbouya because of his. And indeed, there's a time to gamble for on the upside of that kind of prospect. But the summer of 2019 in Detroit wasn't one of those times.
It's odd that Stefanski went with Doumbouya there, because most of the young players he brought in made more sense, fitting that ready to play mold and bringing at least some NBA caliber skill to the table. Bruce Brown with his defense, Svi Mykhailiuk with his shooting, Christian Wood and Thon Maker with their interesting (if not always effective, in the case of Thon) potential.
Lastly, and perhaps most damning, the stability. Sekou at least benefited from the same coach throughout his time with the Pistons, but everything else during his tenure was chaos.
Literally the entire roster around him turned over from the Stefanski to Weaver era. He was the last of the initial roster inherited by Weaver, which I would have to imagine is a tough feeling for a 20 year old who has struggled to find his way in the league. Surely he must have been looking around the locker room and knowing that his departure was inevitable.
Especially for a guy who Casey spoke of early in his career as someone who struggled to naturally play with fire and zeal. Sekou needed to be in a position to succeed. A clear and stable role, a consistent spot in the rotation, the opportunity to be aggressive and make mistakes.
It's a shame, because Doumbouya coming into the league with this current iteration of the Pistons would be rather ideal. He could be brought along slowly, there wouldn't be much pressure, and his potential skillset could be a great fit alongside the other young players.
Still 20 years old, perhaps the Pistons are giving up on him prematurely. It's similar to the Spencer Dinwiddie situation with the Pistons though, where the player is going into his the third year of his career but the team can't offer him a clear role or sure minutes. The most fair thing for the player is likely to mutually move on.
Moreover there's probably more reason than ever before to think Doumbouya can achieve that potential that up to this point has always been theoretical.
For most of his career so far, Doumbouya has been considered more of a wing. A small forward/power forward hybrid. But he never really showed the fluidity to be a real small forward. His future was probably always to slide down to a larger position.
He never really showed the rim protection ability to be a big, despite his length and verticality. In both of his first two seasons he only averaged .4 blocks per 36 minutes. But at Summer League, he averaged three blocks per game while filling more of a big man role.
His jump shot was still erratic, but just nailing down a position and role would be huge for his future. He looks the part of a modern four - athletic, long, able to play some defense and shoot a bit. He's still a ways down the road from being a contributor, but just identifying what he is and who he could be may be the ticket for earning a post-rookie deal contract.
Hopefully Doumbouya does find success in the league. If he does, there'll be some of the same bittersweetness that came with the Pistons giving up too early on Dinwiddie, Khris Middleton, and (for those of you who have been suffering along with this franchise since back then) Amir Johnson then watching them become solid players.
But the important thing is that the franchise learns the right lesson. The front offices that gave up on them weren't idiots for giving up on them too soon. The failure came from the inability to create an environment where they could be successful.
Hopefully the Pistons can do a better job for its players in the future.