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How Sekou Doumbouya could be Brooklyn’s next development project

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Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When speaking with the media following an eventful Draft Night, Sean Marks made it clear the team was targeting depth at the big position from both a defensive and rebounding perspective. He relayed that same message during NBA Summer League and on Friday afternoon, Marks and the Nets went to work.

Brooklyn shuffled the frontcourt by sending DeAndre Jordan, along with four second-round picks and $5.78 million in cash, to Detroit for two young bigs and a $6.27 million trade exception (that they may never use.) The deal’s biggest rationale was luxury tax savings (at least $47 million), but with extra bodies, Brooklyn will have some more decisions to make before Opening Night.

Along with dumping Jordan, the Nets signed LaMarcus Aldridge and reached an agreement with Paul Millsap over the two days. The ripples followed with Alize Johnson being waived. The two 36-year-olds join Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Nicolas Claxton, James Johnson, Jahlil Okafor, Sekou Doumbouya and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe in a crowded frontcourt. Whew! Kessler Edwards, the two-way rookie, is also in the mix.

Now enter Sekou Doumbouya, one of those two bigs the Nets received for DJ. His future with Brooklyn is an intriguing aspect of the trade ... and one to watch.

Before being dealt to Brooklyn, Doumbouya was the longest-tenured Piston. He was drafted at No. 15 two years ago with hopes of high potential. They have yet to pan out and Doumbouya was a polarizing figure in Detroit among fans and the front office.

Last season, the 20-year-old was buried in the depth chart and had a lot of competition for playing time. Griffin and Jerami Grant took the bulk of the minutes with Saddiq Bey and Josh Jackson also in the mix. Although seeing action in 40 of Detroit’s first 45 games, the Frenchman only averaged 12.6 minutes of play and his production translated to 3.6 points on 34.0 percent from the field and 24.3 percent from deep.

There were arguments as to whether he was given a fair chance. He was a polarizing figure.

Chicago Bulls v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

There was somewhat of a fresh opening for Doumbouya after the Pistons bought out Griffin. It opened more minutes and some consistency for Doumbouya. At the tail end of the regular season, his production took a step forward. He averaged 10.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 27.0 minutes per game across the final nine games but that small sample size didn’t offer too much volume. And so, he went on the market.

Troy Weaver, the Pistons GM, has been remodeling the roster since his arrival last June. He has reshaped the roster since his arrival, moving on from Derrick Rose and Griffin, along with key young players like Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard. Doumbouya was the only young player on the roster Weaver didn’t draft which led to speculation about how long he’d stick around. Now he’s in Brooklyn with his future uncertain, the 20-year-old joins a squad with familiar faces and options.

Doumbouya reunites with Piston teammates Griffin and Brown. He also worked out with Kevin Durant last summer. When the trade was reported, Brown posted a picture of him and the 20-year-old together in Piston uniforms to his Instagram.

A year before Brown was traded to Brooklyn, he played with Doumbouya in the Summer League and delivered high praise to the then 18-year-old rookie’s work ethic.

“He’s a great player. He works hard at his craft,” Brown said. “He tries to get better every day and he believes in himself - great confidence in himself.”

Indeed, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer offered this appraisal of Doumbouya in his rookie year...

Despite his ups-and-downs this year, Doumbouya still had flashes, the biggest one a breakout performance off the bench against the Knicks on December 13. The French big piled up a 23-point performance on 8-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds and two blocks. And 18 of those 23 points came in the second half. Griffin praised Doumbouya’s performance, referring to him as one of the players who “are the future of this franchise.”

“Sekou was unbelievable tonight,” Griffin said. “I was so proud of him. He came in and played exactly like he knows how to play. He worked hard off the ball, played defense – these guys are the future of this franchise.”

Can Doumbouya follow in the footsteps of Spencer Dinwiddie, Brown and Griffin — three former Pistons who became success stories in Brooklyn?

Throughout his two-year tenure in Detroit, Doumbouya was best as a two-way wing scorer and lockdown defender. Yes, Brooklyn’s frontcourt is deep but he could in the best case scenario fill a spot-starter role at multiple positions ... if a series of injuries occur.

He certainly is athletic enough. In the 2019 NBA Draft Combine, he had the highest vertical leap — 42.5” and was also tops in the 34 court sprint, shuttle run and lane agility.

His defensive ability could serve as a key factor off the bench with Brooklyn in a switching defense. The 20-year old combines an athletic 6’9,” 230-pound frame with a 6’11” wingspan that has helped him guard the pick-and-roll and with his ability to switch along the perimeter. In addition, he has shot-blocking potential. In one Summer League game, this season he recorded five blocks.

Whatever value Doumbouya could bring to Brooklyn will depend on that defensive play ... at least initially. Hs offensive play is still a work in progress. He has struggled to make shots, especially from the arc in his two-year career (25.4 percent). Doumbouya, however, has shown high upside generating open shots and shots for his teammates through his off-ball movement — a huge benefit for the arsenal of shooters Brooklyn has assembled.

During his increased role at the tail end of the season, Doumbouya showed some skill as a cutter, slicing through the defense. He also showed he can deliver in post-up opportunities using his strength and footwork.

One area where Doumbouya thrived with Detroit throughout his tenure was rim running, again stemming from his defensive effort and his speed. In fact, he commonly initiated the transition on his own after snagging rebounds. Dwayne Casey, his former coach, sees that as his gift. We’ve seen how the Nets used Claxton as a rim-running outlet on the offensive end.

Will he make it? With that crowded front court? It remains to be seen. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report said Tuesday that it’s by no means certain that he will make the final roster. The Nets are loaded and, said Fischer, there are questions about his age. He may be older than his birth record suggests.

If he does make it, it's likely Doumbouya sees time with the Nets G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets, to develop if he remains a Net. The G League is familiar territory for him. He spent 16 games with the Pistons G League affiliate, Grand Rapids Drive, during the 2019-20 season. (Some Detroit fans thought he should have spent more time there.)

Adam Caporn, the new head coach of Long Island, takes the head chair this year after spending seven seasons as head coach of Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence — the country’s leading player development program.

Before Brooklyn can decide how to use the 20-year-old Doumbouya, the team will need to make a decision. The roster stands at 17 players on standard NBA contracts and the team still has a two-way spot to fill prior to training camp, which begins September 28. Brooklyn can bring up to 20 players to camp to further evaluate the final touches before trimming down to 15 players ahead of the season opener three weeks later.

Doumbouya is slated to earn $3.6 million this season with a team option for $5.5 million in 2022-23. The Nets have until Opening Night to decide whether to keep him for another year or let him play out this year and become a restricted free agent. Barring a spectacular camp, the Nets are unlikely to take that path. And that assumes the Nets give him a chance.

Dumping him without a buyout would cost them dead money, something Marks has avoided. They could also conceivably pair him with one of their remaining second rounders in a salary dump.

How soon a decision? Could happen in days or Nets could wait till training camp.