The first thing that struck NBA Director of Elite Basketball Business Operations Chris Ebersole about Sekou Doumbouya during the 2018 Basketball Without Borders Global Camp was the constant, infectious energy of then-17-year-old.
In the mornings, with a busy schedule, in the middle of the basketball season, it didn’t matter. Doumbouya kept teammates loose whether in drills or casual one-on-one games with coaches, which included 2018 All-Stars Al Horford and Goran Dragic.
“I don’t remember if scores were being kept,” Ebersole said. “But I definitely remember he was not shy about challenging anyone.”
He hasn’t been shy about playing against pros in general over his career. The Detroit Pistons, who drafted Doumbouya No. 15 in the 2019 NBA Draft, is getting the youngest player in the draft yet perhaps the most experienced.
Doumbouya, who became the second-highest drafted French player ever, signed his first professional contract in France at the age of 15 and played in the most competitive league last year as an 18-year-old.
Born in Guinea, Africa, he moved to France at the age of 1 and gained citizenship at the age of 15.
It’s easy to compare international players in the limelight to each other, hence every tall European who can shoot being dubbed the Next Dirk Nowitzki for the better part of two decades.
For that reason, it’s unsurprising to see some Doumbouya comps to Pascal Siakam, a hero in the Toronto Raptors’ title run. They’re size and build look similar, as Doumbouya is 6-foot-9, 210 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, according to Bleacher Report, but Siakam has a significant advantage in wingspan (7-foot-3) and has developed his body over his two NBA seasons (229 pounds).
Despite that, Ebersole thinks there’s a “legit comparison” to be made between the two.
“I think there’s always a tendency to want to compare players from Africa to other players from Africa,” he said. “But given their physical profiles … Both of they impact game in variety of ways. Neither one is just a scorer – they can score the ball, but they defend at a high level, have tremendous wingspans, create problems for offensive players that they’re guarding.”
Ebersole made another comparison for Doumbouya: Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green, who does everything for the Warriors from defend centers to bring the ball up the court.
That sounds like a very high ceiling for the Doumbouya. Still a raw talent, he’s not nearly Green’s equal as a playmaker, as highlight clips show Doumbouya is at his best in transition when he’s off-ball and cutting to the lane as a finisher.
However, different plays do show he has a keen eye from the post.
His shooting percentages need to improve to allow him to stretch the floor, but Doumbouya’s shot looks mechanically sound.
Where he stands out to Ebersole, though, is his defense. Ebersole thinks Doumbouya can make a difference right away on that end, though he needs to get stronger and grow out of his rookie body as he learns the NBA game.
“Sekou, if he keeps working, he has the tools and the makeup to try to follow in those guys’ footsteps — obviously those are big shoes to fill,” Ebersole said.
Playing against grown adults for years helped Doumbouya develop this.
At the age of 15, he signed with Poitiers Basket 86 of the second-tier French league LNB Pro B. He played on the team for two seasons, averaging 8.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per game in 2017-18, according to Real GM.
He signed in the elite French league the next season to play for the CSP Limoges. In 39 games, he averaged 7.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.1 minutes while shooting 47.8% from the floor and 31.5% from 3.
At that Basketball Without Borders camp, Doumbouya was named to the 12-member All-Star team.
“It’s pretty apparent from watching him play, even if you only watch him for a few minutes, that the sky is the limit for him athletically and his energy that he brings,” Ebersole said.