The Skal Labissiere Dilemma: Top 5 Prospect or Future Bust?


If basketball players were still allowed to jump to the NBA directly out of high school, Skal Labissiere would have gone in the lottery and would have been discussed as a Top-5 pick. He was #1 on Scout.com's rankings for the Class of 2015, and #2 in ESPN's rankings. Scout.com's recruiting director Evan Daniels was incredibly impressed with Labissiere.

“At his size, Labissiere is equipped with the tools you look for in an elite post player. He has a great deal of potential on the offensive end...Labissiere can impact the game on the defensive end as well. Throughout his high school career he’s improved as a shot blocker and for his size he’s fairly quick off his feet.”

Despite rave reviews of his potential impact on both ends of the floor, Skal fell to the Kings at #28 overall in this year's draft. He had a lackluster freshman year at Kentucky, which exposed many raw areas of his game and his body, but the talent that led Skal to be projected so highly coming out of high school is still there. The Kings will likely look to bring Skal along slowly, but his potential ceiling is far higher than what is usually available at the end of the first round. Skal Labissiere is a low-risk, high-reward project who may well make many teams regret passing on him in the years to come.

Skal is almost a true 7-footer (measured at 6'11.75" in shoes at the NBA draft combine) with the speed and overall athleticism to be a game-changer on both ends of the floor. His high school mixtape shows off his athletic gifts and a shooting stroke that is solid enough to make him a legitimate stretch-4 or stretch-5 in the future:

When he arrived in Lexington, most college basketball analysts presumed that he and Ben Simmons would be fighting for the top spot in the 2016 draft after their freshman seasons. It would be an understatement to say it didn't turn out that way. Skal often seemed lost on both ends of the floor during his lone college season and faded badly as the season continued. He cracked double digits in points just ten times during the season, with four of those performances coming in his first six games. He only averaged 15.8 minutes per game and was pulled from the starting lineup after shooting 1-7 in a loss to Ohio State less than halfway through the season. Although he did regain a spot in the starting lineup at the end of the season and for the SEC and NCAA tournaments, he had already done irreparable damage to his draft stock. While many analysts were surprised that he fell as far down in the draft as he did, there was no-one clamoring for him to be drafted in the Top-5 as had been projected in high school.

Despite his poor showing at Kentucky, Skal still has the tools that led to him being such a valued prospect coming out of high school. He posted a 35" max vertical leap according to Kentucky's measurements (per DraftExpress), and he runs the floor like a far smaller player. Offensively, he has a very fluid jumper out to around 20 feet that he can shoot either off the dribble or after a pick-and-pop. He also is a smart cutter, something that serves him well in terms of finishing alley-oops and getting open looks near the basket.

Defensively, Skal did not adjust well to the college game schematically but still managed to be moderately effective on that end almost entirely due to his shot-blocking prowess. He turned back 1.6 shots per game in his limited playing time at Kentucky and uses his mobility to bother opponent's looks from all over the floor. He also has the speed to hedge on the pick-and-roll and recover into the lane, while also being able to guard on the perimeter after switches.

Even though he has an impressive array of physical tools, Skal will need to up his overall basketball IQ if he wants to make an impact in the NBA. Although he has the athletic tools to be a force defensively and a decent jump-shot to help him on the offensive end, he showed in his year at Kentucky that he has a lot to learn on both ends of the floor before he can make a significant impact. He only started playing basketball in his freshman year of high school, which is a positive sign that his bad habits are more due to lack of playing experience than a refusal to remain disciplined--particularly on the defensive end.

Skal will also need to gain a significant amount of weight before he can play regular NBA minutes, especially since he will in all likelihood eventually play as a stretch-5. He weighs only 216 pounds despite his nearly 7-foot frame, and stockier big men regularly punished him during his time at Kentucky. Hopefully, Skal can spend some time with fellow Kentucky product Willie Cauley-Stein in the weight room this year as both will look to bulk up to deal with the grind of playing against some of the league's heftier centers and power forwards.

Skal played decently for a Summer League Kings team that never managed to get off the ground--he led the team in scoring with 11 points per game and even hit a few 3-pointers along with displaying his solid touch near the basket and a respectable jump shot. His defense was there in spots, but the Kings Summer League squad as a whole were very lackluster on that end and Skal didn't do much to help with that. Overall, however, he looked healthy and played better than expected for the 28th overall pick.

Labissiere will have to fight to get minutes this season; he comes into the year behind DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufos, and Willie Cauley-Stein in the rotation in terms of pure big men, and Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay are also likely to soak up some minutes at power forward. Skal will likely be viewed as more of a project player, especially after a year at Kentucky in which he didn't look quite NBA-ready. He fell flat at Kentucky when playing against superior competition in college, and may well do the same after another jump in opposing talent to the NBA.

That being said, he has all the skills needed to be a prototypical modern big man: enough speed to guard the perimeter, good ability to protect the rim, and a solid enough jump shot that cannot be ignored. If noted defensive coach Dave Joerger can help him be more consistent on that end of the floor, Skal Labissiere may come back to haunt many of the teams that passed on his incredibly high upside in the years to come.

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