The Detroit Pistons’ Dwane Casey and Andre Drummond speak to reporters after team’s 122-102 win vs. New York Knicks at LCA on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.
Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press
Pascal Siakam has yet to play in an All-Star Game.
The Toronto Raptors forward has yet to make an all-league team; his most impressive individual accomplishment came after last season when was named the league’s most improved player.
But after a breakout performance in the NBA Finals against Warriors emotional leader Draymond Green, Siakam is no longer a budding star.
He’s simply a star.
The recently signed contract extension – reportedly for four years and $130 million – shows it.
His early performance this season is garnering MVP mentions.
And in the ultimate sign of respect, Siakam’s name is invoked in scouting circles when assessing the ceiling of prospects like Detroit Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya.
And when those prospects – like Doumbouya – openly express the desire to be like Siakam.
Just before the Pistons’ recent loss to the Raptors, Siakam said he met Doumbouya over the summer and the soon-to-be 19-year-old shared his admiration.
“It’s humbling,” Siakam said of the comparison. “It shows the hard work you’ve put in that people want to be like you.
Detroit Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya poses during media day Monday, September 30, 2019 at the Pistons practice facility in Auburn Hills, Mich. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
The two men share many similarities.
Both are natives of African countries. Siakam is from Cameroon; Doumbouya was born in Guinea.
They share a language. French is one of the official languages of Cameroon; Doumbouya grew up in France and his mother still lives in Orleans.
Their physical dimensions are similar; Siakam is 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds, Doumbouya 6-8, 230.
The Pistons are hoping that another similarity pays off.
Siakam played a significant chunk of his rookie season with the Raptors 905, Toronto’s minor-league affiliate.
Doumbouya, a developmental player, will play much of this season with the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ affiliate.
The Drive begins the G-League regular season in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday night, which likely starts the process of seeing whether Doumbouya can approach Siakam’s heights.
“Everybody’s anxious to see what (Doumbouya) can do,” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey, who once coached Siakam.
“I’m anxious to see what he can do once he’s ready to do, but there’s more to it than just throwing a guy out there. The G-League is going to be great for him down in Grand Rapids. (Drive coach) Donnie Tyndall and his staff will do a good job of getting him basketball-ready.”
Siakam, 25, was the Raptors’ first-round pick in 2016, the 27th overall selection out of New Mexico State.
DraftExpress.com wrote: “(Siakam) has a motor that rarely stops along with great speed and agility to boot that allows him to move around the court with ease.”
He just lacked refinement.
But a rash of injuries forced Casey to play Siakam early. He started the season opener – a 109-91 victory over the Pistons where then-Raptors star DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points.
Siakam’s work ethic and hunger could not be denied.
“He’s been blessed with an incredible motor,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who was an assistant in 2016. “He plays with a pace and an energy, and that’s one thing, but he wakes up in the morning and he still has that motor running to get to the gym to get to work.
“He has a really high level of being able to work extremely hard, day in and day out.”
But after starting the first 34 games of the season, the Raptors’ health improved and Siakam started receiving assignments to the Raptors 905, where he excelled and started to find refinement.
He helped the Raptors 905 win the D-League title.
They defeated the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the championship series, 2-1, with Siakam averaging 23 points and nine rebounds. He was picked as the finals MVP.
He has improved steadily since, and his third season provided a breakout performance.
He scored a career-high 44 points last February in a 129-120 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Alongside superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors produced a dominating one-two punch at the forward spots.
They took down Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and went through the top seed Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the conference finals.
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, he worked over Green for 32 points and the Raptors went on to capture a surprising title, topping the Warriors in six games.
With Leonard off to the Los Angeles Clippers, Siakam has taken on a greater load this season.
He’s averaging 25.6 points per game. Once a non-shooter, he’s making 42.4% of his 3-point shots, stunning his former coach.
“I knew he was going to be a really good player, but I didn’t know he was going to be a star,” Casey said. “He’s made himself into a star.
“Pascal has made himself into the player he is today and it’s showing.”
Detroit Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya dribbles against Orlando Magic during the fourth quarter of a preseason game Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 at Little Caesars Arena. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Doumbouya first picked up a basketball six years ago, after spending most of his youth chasing a soccer ball.
Under the tutelage of National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance, a French training program for elite athletes, Doumbouya was a quick study for the country that has produced NBA stars Tony Parker, Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.
He first drew notice when he helped France win the gold medal at the 2016 U18 European Championships.
Only 15, Doumbouya played well against older prospects, averaging nearly 18 points and seven rebounds.
Doumbouya moved to Limoges after two seasons in a lesser French League division. He struggled at first playing for Limoges but came on strong late in the 2018-19 season.
In 27 games, he averaged 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 34.3% from 3-point range (23-for-67) in 19 minutes per game.
Projected as a top-10 talent, the Pistons selected Doumbouya in the first round of the June draft, 15th overall.
“The Pistons are getting a top-10 talent here with Sekou Doumbouya,” ESPN.com draft analyst Mike Schmitz wrote. “Physically, he really reminds me a lot of Pascal Siakam. He doesn’t quite have that same motor, but in terms of being a Swiss Army-type style of forward. He can guard multiple positions and he can get up and down in transition.
“There is a lot to like about his upside.”
Doumbouya has the coveted blend of size and skill. He has an easy shooting motion, and his quick feet should allow him to guard all five positions in today’s NBA featuring pick-and-roll attacks.
It’s an era of dominant two-way wings like LeBron James and Leonard.
“We don’t have anybody like him in the organization,” Pistons senior advisor Ed Stefanski said. “We didn’t have — and you need more than just one — a 6-8, 6-9 wing with a good body and very athletic with length. We’re missing guys like that and we got to keep adding that.”
Detroit Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Little Caesars Arena, Oct. 26, 2019. (Photo: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)
A G-League endorsement
Pistons forward Christian Wood was a member of the Bucks for most of last season.
He was stuck behind a loaded roster.
Still in the developmental stage of his career, he spent a lot of time with the Bucks’ G-League affiliate where he was dominant.
He played 28 games, averaging 29.3 points per game, 14.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks on 56% shooting.
He was later waived by the Bucks and Pelicans but is now playing well for the Pistons.
He said the G-League is great for building confidence.
“There’s a bunch of guys in the G-League that can play in the NBA, just as hungry as ever that want to be up here, guys on their last edge trying to do everything they can do to make a spot or get on a team,” Wood said. “They’re all hungry, so for me, putting up (big numbers), it helped out a lot.”
The Pistons don’t want to see huge numbers; they want Doumbouya to grow.
His top responsibility is to learn the system – the Drive uses the same terminology, defensive and offense concepts as the Pistons.
“They’re going to want him to come down here and play with detail, play with a sense of urgency,” Tyndall said. “It’s not going to be a situation where he comes down and shoots 35 balls every game.
“It will be a situation where he will be doing the same things here that he would be doing for the Pistons.”
This task can be considered daunting; he’s learning a different style of basketball from what’s played in Europe.
Pistons two-way contract player Jordan Bone can relate.
He will spend a lot of his rookie season with Doumbouya in Grand Rapids.
Something as simple as navigating screens was foreign to Bone, who starred at Tennessee, where ball screens weren’t as prevalent. Bone is learning how to run and defend the pick-and-roll.
“There’s a lot being thrown at me,” Bone said. “This offensive and defensive scheme as far as the NBA game is so different from what I did in college. I’m definitely playing catch up as far as trying to figure out everything. I’m trying to figure out what we’re doing offensively and how to play defense the proper way. That’s the biggest part.
“Just continuing to learn on both ends of the court.”
Detroit Pistons news conference introducing first-round pick Sekou Doumbouya, an 18-year-old forward from Guinea, June 21, 2019.
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press
Redshirt season beckons
The Pistons, 4-5 through Thursday, are decimated by injuries with Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Reggie Jackson all missing multiple games.
Guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, taken two spots after Doumbouya, was a standout in the preseason for the Pelicans.
Big man Goga Bitadze, taken three spots after Doumbouya, is starting for the short-handed Indiana Pacers.
That provokes unease from the Pistons fan base that recalls past draft miscalculations.
Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker are now stars after the Pistons passed on both in previous draft nights.
But the Pistons are clear. They like Doumbouya’s upside – although he isn’t expected to help this season.
“If we needed to, I’d have no problem putting him out there, but there’s so much to learn,” Casey said. “This is a growth year for him. Next summer will be a growth summer for him.
“He can use this year to learn. We don’t expect a lot out of him this year, but we do expect him to grow and get better. That’s our goal is to get him ready for the future.”
Patience will be the order of the day.
But the Siakam comparisons will continue.
Doumbouya sees it.
“I love what (Casey) do with the Raptors and the team, I like what he do with Pascal Siakam, one of my favorite players right now,” Doumbouya said after he was drafted. “I’m just happy to be here to work with him.”
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