Skal Labissiere has endured a tougher road to the NBA than almost anyone else in the league. Once considered the top player of his graduating class, the ups-and-downs of his young basketball career have been numerous. However, over time, and especially as a survivor of the 2010 magnitude-7.0 earthquake in Haiti which devastated his home in Port-au-Prince, Labissiere has developed the thick skin and patience needed to one day succeed in the NBA.
At just 21-years old, he is set to be the future power forward for the Sacramento Kings who, at the time, were taking one of the brightest players in the entire draft – let alone of those remaining at the spot which he was selected. Rising out of the green room at the 28th spot on draft night, Labissiere has a lot of people to prove wrong – and one team to prove right by taking a chance on him.
Living up to the hype
Despite the hype he received coming out of high school, Labissiere struggled to gain footing in John Calipari’s lineups throughout his freshman season in Kentucky. He wasn’t the player many thought he could be at the college level, even though he possessed many of the same tools that his spiritual predecessor, Anthony Davis, utilized in the same position just five years prior.
Whether it was his inexperience playing competitively or the culture shock of heading to a college atmosphere like Lexington as a teenager, Labissiere struggled on the court. It was a tough break for both he and Calipari, who has a great track record of working with even the most marginal of players to get the best out of them. Despite not living up to the hype, Calipari didn’t give up, and days after Labissiere announced he was entering the draft. His coach went to bat for him during a Kentucky Basketball press conference.
"Skal has the skill set to be in that league. No question." Calipari said. "Again, I just told you, shooting is at a premium. He’s a 7-footer who can shoot. Now, physically, he just has to catch up. That’s usually at God’s speed, not yours."
Labissiere was eventually drafted 28th overall by the Phoenix Suns, on behalf of the Sacramento Kings – who at the time still had DeMarcus Cousins on the roster. The 20-year-old Haitian knew his time was coming, so he stayed humble and got to work, showcasing a range of skills in the summer league and piquing the interest of the die-hard Kings fans watching.
Labissiere has an incredibly smooth low post game, and an ability to finish with either hand around the rim. His footwork looked excellent at times, despite being so raw coming into the league. After the Kings dealt Cousins, Labissiere saw his minutes spike, as well as his opportunities on offense.
He started a total of 12 out of 22 games in March and April combined, averaging 23 minutes while putting up 11.1 points on 54% from the field and grabbing 5.8 rebounds to boot. He also showed flashes of a consistent long range jumper, with a smooth release and solid mechanics. In other words: he’d succeeded in making the most of his time on the floor.
The first thing that pops out about Labissiere’s game is his fluidity. It’s tough to describe, but his movements look incredibly light and natural. Right now, a lack of bulk is his biggest issue, and that fluidity won’t stay with him if he wants to play 35 minutes a night in the post.
If David Joerger, head coach of the Kings, decides he wants his power forward to lean more toward stretching the floor, a leaner and quicker Labissiere wouldn’t be a terrible idea, though. With a solid jump shot, a great first step and quick footwork in tow, Labissiere could excel in a stretch four role.
As it stands, it looks like the Kings front office have Labissiere pegged as a potential future starter. With the addition of Zach Randolph, who will come in to play another mentor role for the youngster, among a litany of others who’ve taken the prodigy under their wing, Labissiere will have all the tools he needs to become what the team has envisioned.
He should be the full-time starter at some point next season, however, expect Randolph to start the year off as the starting power forward. Unless Labissiere shows the coaching staff something special in training camp, it’s customary to let the younger player earn their right to be the first of five on the floor.
Randolph will undoubtedly be a nice challenge for Labissiere as he had one of his forgettable rookie flop games against Z-Bo and the Grizzlies last season. This proved to be one of the rookie’s biggest hurdles: excelling against big, physical, veteran front lines. From this perspective, it was truly a brilliant move bringing Randolph in.
He’s practically the perfect style of player for the current NBA. It speaks volumes for his potential to become a highly regarded name in this league. As mentioned before, he has the form to make long range shots and the tools (a 7’2” wingspan) to be a shot blocker on defense – the only thing stopping him in his progress is his physical development, which according to John Calipari is "God's speed."
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