John Calipari: ‘He would have been the No. 1 pick’

The Skal Labissiere that all Kentucky fans hoped for did not perform very well during his stay in Lexington, but rather the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Labissiere showed out in the summer league, displaying his talents in a way that Kentucky fans thought they would be getting last fall.

Labissiere was projected the number one overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft but things took a turn at Kentucky. His size and strength were not at par with the likes of other big men in the NCAA, and his skill set was not where it should have been for a 6-foot-11 big man.

The potential was there for Labissiere as all the accolades and high recruiting rankings had predicted, but it was easy to see that he did not have the high level of five on five experience before entering college.

The physical and mental toughness proved to be a problem for Labissiere but he was still able to succeed early in the season scoring in double figures in four of his first six games.

Labissiere went on to average 6.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 1.6 blocks per game, while earning SEC player of the week for the first and last week of his freshman year.


Coach John Calipari recruited Labissiere to Kentucky to mold him into one the best big men in college basketball as he did in the past with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. But it simply didn’t turn out that way.

“Skal has the skill set to be in that league. No question,” Calipari told the Associated Press. “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.”

“When he’s physically able to play in that league, he’s going to be one of those guys. And what I would tell any team, if he had stayed in school another year or two, he would have been the No. 1 pick. Because he’d have figured it out, he’d have blocked more shots, he’d have run better, he’d been more physical. So here’s what I tell you, in 2016, whatever pick you get becomes in 2019 or 2018, you get the No. 1 pick. Should you take him? That’s why he went in the lottery. Because they’re saying, you know what, if we waited a year or two and got him, he would be the No. 1 pick.”

The Kings saw the potential in Labissiere that Calipari was preaching when they drafted him with the 28th pick in the 2016 NBA draft.

Sacramento is gaining a young athletic big man who has the ability to block shots, shoot the basketball at a high efficiency rate and have a knack for ball handling like a guard.

Let’s watch a little bit of film:

I’d like to compare Labissiere to a young Anthony Davis who has the agility and speed to run the floor vertically in transition offense or latterly on the defensive end when defending a smaller guard.

Labissiere’s ability to block a shot on the defensive end, then run down the floor and contribute on the offense is the best trait Skal brings to the table.

Davis and Labissiere have many similar physical traits such as a lively skinny frame but it comes with a lot of finesse on the offensive end by spacing the floor with their shooting ability and their height.

Midrange and defense have proven to be strengths of Labissiere but he does have multiple roadblocks that he will have to overcome to find real success in the NBA.

Labissiere needs to get a better feel for the game, which will allow him to play more power forward during his tenure in the NBA. He tends to get lost on defense at times and his awareness comes and goes depending on game time situations.

The decision-making skills of Labissiere will come with time but as of now, they are not at par with a starting power forward in the NBA. He has more of a neutral approach on aggressiveness as well as with pressure.

With Labissiere being young this offers the Kings more room to develop him rather than throwing him into the fire right away. And if they are patient enough, as Coach Calipari stated in the past, Labissiere has the ceiling to develop into what he was projected to be out of high school, a No. 1 overall pick.