A lot has been made about Skal Labissiere’s struggles lately, and some of it is justified. The 19-year-old seven-foot big born in Haiti entered the season rated as the top prospect in the 2016 draft by Draft Express, thanks to a 21-point, six-rebound, six-block performance at the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit. But a couple of months into his college career, Labissiere has been just a guy.
Those struggles ought to be put into context, though. Kentucky is trying to develop him the same way it did Karl Towns, Jr. Towns was a stretch big in high school but was limited to playing as a low post scorer by John Calipari in Lexington, in an attempt to toughen up a player many thought had a more finesse style of play. It worked, as Towns developed into a more complete offensive player and was eventually drafted first overall last year.
But it hasn’t worked as well for Labissiere so far.
And that has been the case because post play expose the biggest gap in Labissiere’s profile at this point of his development, which is his weak body. He lacks strength to set deep position, weighing just 225 pounds – a thin frame in the context of his seven-foot height. Tony Parker pushed him away from the low box consistently in the game against UCLA.
That lack of strength has hurt him below the rim as well, where Labissiere is unable to establish inside position on the offensive glass and gets pushed out of the way on the defensive board. Marshall Plumlee completely dominated him in the game against Duke. That should’ve happened some, considering Plumlee is 23 and will join the United States’ Army when his college career is over, but happened in such a way that made Labissiere look completely unsuitable to play on an NBA game soon.
He is a quick leaper off the group, plays with energy crashing the glass and has a seven-foot-two wingspan that should be an asset to help him rebound outside his area. But unable to set good position and hold his ground, Labissiere has collected just 6.5% of Kentucky’s misses and just 12.4% of opponents’ misses in his 247 minutes on the floor, according to basketball-reference. Those are really disappointing percentages for an athletic seven-footer with NBA potential.
When he does manage to get the ball with his back to the basket, Labissiere struggles to read the game around him. He is slow reacting to double teams, failing to see open teammates cutting or spotting up and getting the ball stripped from him often. When forced to attack off the bounce on short face-up drives, Labissiere has also not done well. He doesn’t have a good enough handle at this point and looks clumsy moving in tight spaces.
Labissiere is averaging almost three turnovers per 40 minutes and has assisted on less than 4% of Kentucky’s scores when he’s been on the floor.
When he has gotten his shot off, Labissiere has flashed some nice touch on turnaround hook shots over either shoulder and decent footwork on a turnaround jump-shot. The touch on his jumper comes and goes, pending on whether he has to create separation himself or can launch off a catch-and-shoot situation. He doesn’t have a quick release but elevates with good balance and his mechanics look clean.
Labissiere has flashed the ability to shoot out of the pick-and-pop from mid-range and has even displayed three-point range on spot-ups in practices for the Nike Hoop Summit but hasn’t been put in that position at all at Kentucky. His jump-shots have mostly come out of post play and finding soft spots whenever the opponent goes zone. In such instances, Labissiere has converted 43.8% of his 48 jump-shots, according to hoop-math.
Other than whenever he has had the chance to show his jumper off the catch, Labissiere has excelled in areas where he’s been able to showcase his athletic ability. He moves very fluidly in space, especially on defense, which is why he remains an attractive prospect from an NBA-standpoint.
With where NBA offenses are going, teams need their big men to be able to defend in space, and Labissiere has proven able to do so. He was excellent in a couple of such instances in the game against Duke, which runs a pro-style offense heavy on pick-and-rolls. Labissiere got on his stance, exhibited lateral quickness and cut off several drives by Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram.
He has the quickness to rotate to the front of the rim in help-defense and can play above the rim as a shot blocker, currently averaging 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. His seven-foot-two wingspan isn’t an elite measurement for a seven-footer but he’s proven able to contest shots effectively enough against the level of competition he’s faced.
Labissiere has struggled with his recognition, though, often getting there a second late, selling out for the block and making himself vulnerable to foul. He’s averaging 6.2 personal fouls per 40 minutes.
On offense, Labissiere hasn’t had many chances to show his fluidity moving in space. At the Hoop Summit, he had shown good hands to catch the ball on the move, decent touch on non-dunk finishes and the ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs. But Kentucky doesn’t run many pick-and-rolls where he’s able to dive down the lane with momentum because it lacks shooting to space the defense and the lane is always crowded. As a result, Labissiere has been set up for just 29 shots at the rim in his 12 appearances.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara