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Skal Labissiere's potential could interest Nuggets in lottery

Dan Fatigato Avatar
May 27, 2016


Up until the NBA draft on June 23, the BSN Nuggets staff will review first-round prospects the Nuggets may target. We’ll look at their skill set, the role they will play in the league and how they could potentially fit in Denver.

Skal Labissiere, F/C, Kentucky

High-profile prep players go to Kentucky to become high NBA lottery picks as quickly as possible. This is not breaking news. But for every one-and-done star like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns there are many others that could use a little more seasoning in the college ranks.

Skal Labissiere is a member of the latter group. After preseason projections had him near the No. 1 overall pick, the 7-foot forward got lost in Kentucky coach John Calipari’s rotation and struggled through most of his freshman season, averaging just 6.6 points in under 16 minutes per game.

His underwhelming freshman season caused his draft stock to crater, but the pull of the NBA and the early hype that surrounded him was a bit intoxicating, as another sophomore season was abandoned in Lexington. Labissiere declared for the draft shortly after his freshman year at Kentucky came to a close.

Fortunately for Haiti-native Labissiere, his impressive workouts before and during the draft combine have him shooting back up draft boards.

His physical gifts can’t be ignored. Nimble, fleet-footed 7-footers who can shoot don’t come around very often. Labissiere can get out and run the floor in transition. His great hands make him dangerous as a finisher on the run, in a crowd or on the offensive glass. With a solid mid-range shot and improving 3-point range, Labissiere can be the elusive stretch four or five that so many teams desire. He has the potential to be a true floor-spacer that moves instinctively from the elbows to the perimeter without the ball.

“I can stretch the floor for teams,” Labissiere told Draft Express. “I feel like I can take bigger guys off the dribble and face up…the face up game will be a big part of my game so I’ve been working on that a lot.”

Defensively, Labissiere showed shot-blocking ability in college, and with some development could become a solid rim protector in the NBA. He can switch screens – not quite on Towns’ level, but can bother and contain pick-and-roll ball handlers on the perimeter.

At just 19-years-old and still improving (he played little organized basketball prior to college), Labissiere has one of the highest ceilings in the draft. Yet if he can’t bring the right attitude and grasp the physical nature of the NBA game his floor will be ground-level.

Most of the questions surrounding Labissiere have to do with his skinny, 216-pound frame. Early on he will struggle to get position for points and rebounds in the post, which will limit his ability to slide down to the five.

“He’s a 7-footer who can shoot,” Calipari said earlier this month. “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.”

There are also concerns about his approach to the game and lack of tenacity, but sometimes that kind of critique is overblown. Once his body fills out and he continues to learn the game, there’s a good chance he’ll be tougher in the paint. He was woeful as a rebounder, posting just 5.5 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes his freshman year; part of his game must improve if he’s going to earn significant NBA minutes.

Labissiere is a risk, no question. To mitigate that, his ideal team would be one that can bring him along very slowly with a focus on the development of his body and skills, and time in the D-League likely wouldn’t hurt either. He’s not going to step into a star role immediately like fellow Wildcats Davis and Towns, but he has the tools to grow into a scorer and defender with Chris Bosh-like versatility.

Potential fit in Denver – The Nuggets yearn for a stretch four that can hit threes and protect the rim. Labissiere shows that promise but he won’t deliver right away. For a Nuggets front office that has stated it wants to compete for the No. 8 seed next season, drafting such a project wouldn’t seem to fit their timeline. However, given the Nuggets track record in developing big men, an investment in Labissiere could pay huge dividends down the road. He’d get the chance to learn the different nuances of the power forward and center positions behind Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur and Jusuf Nurkic.

Current projection – Right now Labissiere is projected to go late-lottery, meaning he should be available for the Nuggets at No. 7 and there’s a slight chance he can slide to No. 15 as well, where his talent would be hard to pass up. For Denver, it all depends on how much immediate impact they are looking for in the first round.

Credit: USATSI
Labissiere’s length and 7′ 2.5″ wingspan makes him an intriguing prospect the Nuggets may look to in the first round. Credit: USATSI



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