Detroit Pistons Rookie Impressions: Grand Rapids Drive vs. Erie Bayhawks

The Detroit Pistons are in a place where they are trying to compete in the Eastern Conference while also building for their future. Young players like Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk have already become mainstays in head coach Dwayne Casey’s rotation. The next step for the organization is to develop the rookies from the 2019 offseason: Sekou Doumbouya, Jordan Bone, and Louis King. I had the opportunity to see the trio in person at Monday’s Grand Rapids Drive 117-100 loss to the Erie Bayhawks.

Sekou Doumboya

Number 15 First Round Pick in 2019 NBA Draft

Position: Small Forward/ Power Forward

Height and Weight: 6’9”, 230 lbs.

Age: 18

Experience: French Professional Basketball Leagues 2016-2019

G-League Averages: 18.4 Points, 4.6 Rebounds, 1.3 Assists

Doumbouya is a lanky SF/PF who is currently the youngest player in the NBA at 18 years old. He first started playing basketball at 13 and was playing professionally in France soon after. Watching Doumbouya in person, you see a combination of a polished game with raw talent. He moves fluidly with and without the ball, has an incredible downhill game and his three-point shot looks NBA ready.

I was eagerly anticipating Monday’s game to see this player who has drawn Pascall Siakam comparisons. Doumbouya’s performance was a tale of two halves. In the first, he was not a non-factor on offense and seemed lost at time defensively. Going into halftime, he had 2 points on three field-goal attempts, 1 rebound and 2 fouls in 10:25 minutes.

In the fourth, once the game was out of hand, he played more aggressively. Doumbouya was attacking the basket and showing off his athleticism. He finished with 12 points on 12 FGAs in 23 minutes. His three-point shot was not falling (0/4) but on the season he’s converting 38.9%. Against the Bayhawks, his form looked clean outside on airball. I would chalk up this performance to an off-night. With him being younger than some high school seniors, he is more allowed to not be Superman every game.

It is easy to imagine as Doumbouya grows both on-and-off the court, he could become a legitimate two-way player at the NBA. His 6’11” wingspan altered many shots and he notched three blocks. The only limiting factor for him getting playing time with the Pistons does seem to be experience.

Doumbouya’s defense is very much a work in progress. Coach Casey is known for being a stickler at that end of the court. Doumbouya was late or did not rotate at all on a few possessions and did seem lost at times. Him getting minutes at the NBA level would also come down to what is best for his development.

In a modern NBA offense, Doumbouya best fit is as a wrecking ball power-forward, who punishes defender at the basket while also having four shooters to kick out to. The paint is currently pretty full in Detroit with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond firmly entrenched as the starters. They are both most at home in the paint. There is also a lack of shooting bigs for the Pistons. Maybe Markieff Morris or Christian Wood could play as a stretch 5 but I would imagine Casey would be less than happy with the results on defense. The Pistons are also seeking to make the playoffs in the Eastern and would like to play as much mistake-free basketball as possible. Doumbouya is still growing his game and has sky-high potential. In the G-League, he is allowed to be imperfect while honing his shooting, ball-handling and passing skills. It was also said his English is a work in progress. That would be another complicating factor for integrating him into a playoff-hopeful team.  However, if Detroit does fall out of the post-season hunt, there would be room Doumboya (and others) to see extended action. For now, he will be delighting and impressing many fans in Grand Rapids.

Jordan Bone

Number 57 Pick Overall in Second Round of 2019 NBA Draft (Two-way Contract)

Position: Point Guard

Height and Weight: 6’3”, 180 lbs.

Age: 22

Experience: University of Tennessee 2016-2019

G-League Averages: 18.3 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, 8.3 Assists

The first thing to know about Jordan Bone is that he is a point guard with incredible athleticism. At times, he was out-leaping forwards who had a half-a-foot or more on him. From what I also observed, Bones is very much a scoring guard with the ability to create instant offense…when his shot is falling.

His performance was very similar to Doumbouya’s in that the second half of the game was much better than the first (side-effect from the additional road trip to Milwaukee when both were called up by Detroit?). In the first, Bone had 0 points on 0-for-7 shooting, 2 rebounds and 2 assists. He played up to expectations in the second, scoring 9 points on 4-of-6 field goals, 4 assists and collecting 2 rebounds. You cannot knock his confidence. This positive self-assuredness comes through when you talk with him too. In making small talk while setting up equipment, he offered his thoughts about the new Popeye’s chicken sandwich. Good, but not greatest-sandwich of all time the hype on the internet has made it out to be. As someone who tried the sandwich before people started getting into fights for it, this is the correct take.

Many are hoping Bone can contribute in Detroit soon but this will take more game reps. He says one of the biggest adjustments he has had playing for the Drive compared to Tennessee is learning how to read passes coming off of pick-and-rolls. Bone said the Volunteers never ran PnR so this is a new part of his game he is working on developing. This will be a necessary one in order to play point guard for the Pistons. Pick-and-roll is a foundation of the offensive system with Andre Drummond. This is also why Reggie Jackson (when healthy) has been so valuable to Detroit, because of his ability to effectively operate the pick-and-rolls. In honest, the Pistons’ point guard situation is a MASH unit at times. Jackson is out for an extended amount of time with fractures in his back and former MVP Derrick Rose needs regular games off to manage his minutes. If Bone can nail down the PnR, there is plenty of opportunity for him in Detroit.

Louis King

2019 Undrafted Free Agent (Two-way Contract)

Height and Weight: 6’7”, 205 lbs.

Position: Power Forward

Age: 20

Experience: University of Oregon 2018-2019

G-League Averages: 18.2 Points, 6.8 Rebounds, 1.3 Assists

All hail the once and future King. If I had gone into this game blind with no research and someone had told me Louis King was the Pistons’ 2019 First Round Pick, I would have probably believed them. King’s output for the game was 24 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. He never stopped moving and the coaching staff had him play 37 minutes. The most impressive part of the performance for King was that the game came to him.

Most of King’s scoring was created off-ball. His (mid-range) jump shot looked crisp and he has a nice touch when scoring close to the basket. His next steps will be for him to develop into a more physical player. Information from earlier this year has him listed at 6’9”. The GR Drive media packet said he is 6’7”. King also said he is still learning to trust his body when playing through contact.

During his senior season in high school, he tore his MCL. Even though that was January of 2018, an injury like that can have lasting effects psychologically. When King ran into contact around the rim against the Bayhawks, he worked to score around them by releasing his shot over or around the defenders. This is helped by an impressive 7-foot wingspan. As he becomes stronger, King should be able to drive through opposing players and draw fouls. Considering his frame and his weight, it is possible King has potential as a wing. It is always a position of need and flipping his assignments with Doumbouya’s could play to both of their strengths.