For the Sacramento Kings, this current season (2016-17) isn’t about making a deep playoff run. This season isn’t about challenging the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs or even making the playoffs at all for that matter. For the first time in years, this team is completely without a legitimate NBA star.
DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans last month and Rudy Gay was lost for the year because of an Achilles injury before that.
In the meantime, the team’s job will be to look at the young talent they have on the roster and go from there. The Kings have Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield, Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere to work with and they are all 23 years old or younger.
Right now they are all question marks, but it’s also intriguing to see if any of these young players become a star. Today, we’ll take a closer look at Labissiere.
A few years ago, the thought of getting Labissiere was something that any team would love. He was the number two overall prospect coming out of high school and committed to Kentucky. However, once he got to Lexington he struggled.
Usually, a Calipari big man comes in with a lot of hype; puts up good numbers, leaves after a year and becomes a high pick. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and former King DeMarcus Cousins are prime examples.
For Labissiere, it wasn’t exactly like that. By the end of the year he averaged only 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds playing just 15.8 minutes a night. Mix in the fact that he started just 18 of the 36 games for the Wildcats and it was a rough year for Labissiere. Nevertheless, he decided to enter the draft anyways.
Convinced that it was simply a down year, the Kings took Labissiere with the 28th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Even though his numbers weren’t mind-blowing, Labissiere was only 20 at the time and usually the number two overall prospect has very good value late in the first round.
Myles Turner, Jabari Parker and Andre Drummond are three of the last four number two overall prospects. Maybe Labissiere just needed some time to adjust to everything.
Once on the Kings, Labissiere was sent to the D-League to get that time to adjust and hone his skills. In 17 games with the Bighorns, Labissiere averaged 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. This, if nothing else, proved that the kid had talent and may be worth the first round pick.
Then, early in the morning of February 20th the Kings officially traded away Cousins to the Pelicans. This was something that helped Labissiere because it lessened the number of big men on the roster.
Before the trade, Labissiere was the fifth big man on a roster in an NBA where the big man is valued less and less everyday. Now he moved up to number four and could finally get minutes and show what he learned in the D-League.
Before the trade, Labissiere played in a total of eight games out of a possible 57 and only played in 52 minutes over those eight games. Since the trade, Labissiere has played in 88 minutes over six games and shot 56 percent from the floor and scored in double figures three times.
The Kings are even a +7 in the plus/minus category with Labissiere on the floor. Yes, the sample size is small and it doesn’t take into account everything he does, but it’s a nice start. Here’s a little deeper look at what he’s done since Labissiere got his opportunity.
In his first game against the Nuggets he scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. In the video below you can see his jumper looked smooth and he even gave you some hustle points against Kenneth Faried.
Then, about a week later, Labissiere got his first NBA start against the Brooklyn Nets. He produced 10 points, five rebounds, a block and a steal. All were nice things and you saw that smooth jump shot again.
So why is the jump shot important? Why is it something that has been mentioned over and over again? It’s important because the three-point shot is something that has become key in today’s NBA. If you’re a big man and can shoot at all, teams want you to do it. Labissiere clearly has that talent so look for him to use it next year.
Finally, last night Labissiere again had double figures in points (10) and showed off not only a jump shot, but also some post moves.
So what does it all mean? You could argue that Labissiere is doing all of this on a bad team and since he’s gotten more minutes the team is 1-5 but that’s not the point. The point is to see what Labissiere can do and it looks like he’s at least someone who can play in the NBA.
“Skal has been working since he got here,” said Darren Collison after a win against the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve seen that kid work after the games, in the gym by himself, before practice, after practice, before the games and after the games. It’s good to see that work finally paying off for him. He’s a workaholic.”
If you take a look at other rookies this year, nobody has really separated themselves other than Joel Embiid and he can’t stay healthy. Will Labissiere become a 20 and 10 guy who can shoot from distance every single night? Nobody knows but at least he’s shown glimpses of it and that has many fans excited.