Sacramento Kings second-year forward Skal Labissiere has been an enigma for Kings fans this season. A deeper look into that topic and where Labissiere goes from here.
Skal Labissiere burst onto the NBA landscape last season in a memorable game for Sacramento Kings fans. The team had started fresh after parting ways with DeMarcus Cousins, and Skal was the next man up. Skal, unfazed, rose to the occasion. He delivered a performance that had Kings fans brimming with excitement about the future. Labissiere had the game of his life and erupted for a career-high 32 points and tacked on 11 boards to seal the double-double and victory over Phoenix. Skal was aggressive, he attacked the rim, and he played with fearless tenacity as he punished the Suns’ defense with his diverse array of post moves, hook shots, and mid to long range shooting.
As the latter half of the season progressed, he began to emerge as a top rookie talent and even made headlines as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. Labissiere lost out because he only played significant minutes during the latter half of the season. Regardless, Labissiere was playing at such a high level that he had lots of fans wondering what Skal’s chances at the ROY award would have been if he had played more at the beginning of the season. Labissiere’s play earned him a role as a critical piece of the team’s future.
Before the season started, the Sacramento Kings had big expectations for the former Kentucky Wildcat. Unfortunately, those hopes have been tempered and met with has been a disappointing year from Skal so far, with the second-year big man relegated to the King’s bench in favor of Zach Randolph. Labissiere played a season-low six minutes last month in a loss vs. the Pistons, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Should Kings fans be concerned? Has Skal regressed? Has Labissiere fallen out of favor with Coach Dave Joerger? All of these are valid questions. But we must remember to keep perspective. It’s easy to jump to conclusions based on what see. However, our assessments must be objective. Fans must take into account specific factors and dynamics such as individual matchups and game planning.
Kings coach Dave Joerger cites these matchups and a growing trend that has swept across the league as reasons for Skal’s low usage. Here are the direct quotes from Joerger in Jason Jones‘ article from the Sacramento Bee.
"“It’s hard when all these teams are playing threes as fours and they’re stretching you out,” Joerger said. “It can be difficult sometimes. As he learns and gets experience, he’ll be able to play on the perimeter defensively. He’ll be able to take a guy low if he has a mismatch down there.”"
Essentially, Skal isn’t quick enough to defend this new crop of small forwards playing at the power forward position. From a pure basketball standpoint, it’s easy to see how this can be problematic. Those defensive matchups aren’t favorable for Skal or the Kings, and the team has had to adjust as a result. This growing league trend has unfortunately negatively impacted Skal’s minutes. His well-documented struggles with getting into foul trouble confirm that Skal has a hard time keeping pace on the defensive end. The Kings just cannot afford for Skal to be as much of a liability on defense as he is right now.
Back to the Drawing Board
But by no means is it time to panic. Skal has not fallen out of favor with the Kings organization. That notion was put to rest when the Kings decided to assign Labissiere to the Reno Bighorns of the G-League. A lot of fans have a negative predisposition about a player going to the G-League as if it is a “demotion”, but I vehemently disagree with this common misconception. The Kings assigning Labissiere to the G-League shows the opposite precisely. They are still fully invested in his success, and the team simply wants to provide him an opportunity to continue and grow and develop.
Labissiere made a massive statement during his time with the Bighorns by scoring 29 points, corralling 18 rebounds, and blocking seven shots versus the Lakeland Magic. Numbers like these show that Labissiere still has the potential to be a solid player in the NBA. Maybe a brief stint in the G-League is just what the doctor ordered for the Haitian Sensation. Only time will tell.