This year, a young player from Limoges CSP in France has the tools to become a lottery pick in the 2019 draft. Sekou Doumbouya is a name that NBA fans will soon learn to pronounce correctly. Although his statistics (6.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in 15 minutes per game in the Eurocup) don’t immediately jump off the screen, he has shown enough to prove that he does indeed have what it takes to thrive at the next level. As always, it’s important to keep in mind that young prospects in the European leagues are playing against grown men and grizzled vets, unlike current college players that compete against kids at most just a few years older than themselves.
First of all, he’s 6-foot-9 with long arms and a healthy dose of athleticism. The way he glides up and down the court, seamlessly flowing into any scenario presents a desirable attribute in today’s modern game of positionless basketball. Doumbouya is big enough to post up smaller guards, strong enough to bump off defenders on his drives, and skilled enough to play out of the pick and roll with the ball in his hands. He’s a special player that makes an immediate impact on both sides of the ball based purely on effort and energy.
With his length and athleticism, Doumbouya has the ability to rebound and push the ball downcourt to create easy scoring opportunities including coast to coast dunks. He also has nimble feet and the prerequisite footwork that seemingly every European prospect carries over from their early soccer background. This can be displayed in his graceful Euro Step in the clip above and will certainly carry over and provide a phenomenal foundation for him to add new moves to his arsenal.
A lot of players come in with a single strength, whereas Doumbouya’s main weapon is his overall versatility. It’s not rare to see him attack closeouts, hit catch and shoot 3’s or pump fake and get to a comfortable spot for a pull-up jumper, sometimes all in the same game. This is an important key to his game as it directly translates to the way a lot of NBA teams now play with so much switching defenses. Doumbouya’s ability to recognize mismatches and adapt to the moment will serve him well.
The ability to create for others is typically a skill that players either have or they don’t. Even point guards can spend years working on their court vision and overall basketball IQ and only see marginal improvements at best in comparison to those who are blessed with an innate ability to see and understand spacing. Being able to back players down and make the right read at the right moment is a skill. Knowing where the next pass should go, but understanding the different reads based on the position of help-side is an instinct. As you can see above, Doumbouya is a willing passer that looks to make the right play.
Being tall and long can also have disadvantages at times, and far too often Doumbouya gets beat in closeout situations or off the dribble because he fails to get low enough while maintaining active feet. Thus far, however, he’s been able to compensate with his athleticism. His ability to block shots ranging from Lebron-esque chase-downs, recovers and even jump shots demonstrates the ability to be more than just a capable defender once he fully adapts, commits and learns NBA positioning.
While playing against older and far more experienced professional players has presented challenges, it has also prepared him for the future. There are times when he’s been a little too carefree with the ball, but this can also be chalked up to an overzealous desire to create something from nothing. A lot of young players have experienced this learning curve and we would anticipate that these types of turnovers will eventually dissipate through experience and detailed video review.
When judging prospects, NBA personnel typically want to know comparable players. It helps them formulate an idea of how a potential player can fit into their team and what his eventual ceiling might be. While this is understandable, it’s also short-sighted as some of today’s biggest stars had no comparable blueprint for what they would eventually become. Who were the names thrown out there for a young Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden? Size and shape alone shouldn’t confine a player into any set mold as it relates to their future growth and evolution.
At this stage, it’s hard to say if Sekou Doumbouya will be the next Kawhi Leonard, Justise Winslow or Jimmy Butler. But with all the tools at his disposal, he has the chance to carve out a very special path. And the European talent pipeline continues to grow…
Pete Strobl is an assistant coach at Ratiopharm Ulm of the German League. You can follow him @PeteStrobl