What Happened to Skal Labissiere?

After a late-season breakout last year following the All-Star break, Skal Labissiere is stalling early in his sophomore season.

Skal Labissiere did not get to spend much time on the court last season. However, he was a revelation in that limited playing time. After falling from second in his high school class to 28th in the 2016 NBA Draft, Skal played in the D-League for all but eight of Sacramento's games before the All-Star break. However, he was stellar in those 25 games down the stretch--Skal averaged 10.8 points on an efficient True Shooting Percentage of 57.8 after the break, and also chipped in on the glass with 6.0 rebounds per game. He looked a lot more like the prospect who was second in his high school class than the 28th overall pick.

While the end of Skal's rookie campaign was immensely entertaining and exciting for Kings fans, his sophomore season has been decidedly less promising. Skal played 32  minutes on Opening Night but has seen his role decline steadily since then, including three DNP's before re-entering the rotation on December 29th against Phoenix. Skal's minimized role is somewhat shocking in the context of the Kings' presumed youth movement in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, but there are plenty of reasons to remain hopeful about the Haitian big man's future.

Mid-Range Mastery

Skal Labissiere is still a project, but his potential is tantalizing. He is essentially locked in as a power forward at the moment due to his lack of bulk, but his speed and fluidity at 6'11" allow him to be an effective big man on switches against all but the quickest guards. Despite his physical ability, however, the part of Skal's game that instantly translated to the NBA was his jump shot.

Skal's sizeable frame allows him to shoot over pretty much any defender (especially at power forward), and that mid-range jump shooting opened up the rest of his game during his rookie season. Skal was in the 97th percentile among big men in terms of mid-range jump shooting last year per Ben Falk's Cleaning the Glass. He shot an especially impressive 53.8% from 15-19 feet last year and took advantage of any team who tried to pack the paint:

Contrast that to this season--Skal was in the 26th percentile among big men from mid-range prior to Tuesday night's game against the Hornets. He was also shooting 30.6% on jump shots from 15-19 feet prior to that game. Skal is not only taking longer to decide to pull the trigger this year but is also releasing the ball a beat later than he was last season:

That extra split second might not seem like much, but it is the difference between taking a shot in rhythm and forcing yourself into a shot that you're hoping will go in. Skal is aiming shots more than he is taking them at this point, which he will need to correct going forward.

Confidence Booster

While Skal's return to the rotation in recent days is an encouraging sign, Dave Joerger's big man rotations this season have been very unpredictable. Skal's excellent play in his three games since his last DNP is a positive sign for him going forward. If Joerger decides to cut Skal out of the rotation again, however, he should send Skal to the Reno Bighorns. While this might seem like a confidence-killing maneuver rather than a confidence-boosting one, a short G-League stint could revitalize Labissiere.

Skal played two games for the Bighorns in early December after being sent down. Rather than sulking, Labissiere absolutely massacred his opposition. In those two games, Skal put up 56 points on absurd 71/67/59 shooting splits. He also grabbed 31 rebounds and blocked 10 shots. He might not have the size to dominate in that fashion against NBA competition, but a few games of destroying his G-League opposition could do wonders for his confidence.

Skal Labissiere has run the gamut from domination to disappointment in his brief basketball career. However, he is a rare talent--and is a rare non-lottery pick with legitimate All-Star upside. If he can get his confidence back and start raining in mid-range jump shots again, Skal could be primed for another breakout after the All-Star Game. 

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