6/18/2016 10:30:00 AM
As a Kentucky fan and student, I was able to experience the urban legend that is Skal Labissiere countless times throughout his freshman campaign at UK. I was able to see both positive and negative on and off the court, both in games and throughout campus. I'm not going to be here to pump rainbows and unicorns about him, I'm just going to tell you exactly how I saw it.
We'll start with the negative, because there sure was a good chunk of it.
For every impressive highlight and jaw-dropping play he'd have, Labissiere would make about five or six mistakes that about make you want to rip your hair out. Skal would stand in the post and get the ball ripped out of his hands from guards half his height and could gain no leverage or ground in the paint against guys his size or bigger. He just had no strength or feel for the game in the post, looked absolutely lost sometimes on the court, and honestly was one of the most frustrating players I've ever come across in my time watching basketball.
A lot of his struggles came from his lack of confidence. When teammates and coaches were hard on him, he'd flounder, not flourish. He grew hesitant and tentative.
He would show glimmers of hope to bring fans to the edge of their seats and make coaches proud of him, but would turn right back and revert to old habits and show lack of aggression. For the majority of the year, 5'9 guard and teammate Tyler Ulis out-rebounded him, and it wasn't even close. Yes, it was that bad.
But man, when he did something right, it was absolutely beautiful.
From the early practice reports and performance at Kentucky's NBA combine held in front of scouts before the season started, we saw a mid-range jumper you rarely find in a big man. This kid had KG-like touch from outside, and the length to extend over any defender that came his way. He was money, and the hype built. Scouts were enamored by his early performances, and his stock was still sky high.
During the matchups against lesser competition early in the season, Skal dominated. He hit jumper after jumper, and seemed to have a signature silent-but-deadly jump hook. Kentucky fans felt he was going to be yet another stud big man that would lead the team to their ninth National Championship. John Calipari realized he was a great player on the outside, but with little to no inside game, he pushed him to the block against quality opponents to prepare him for the NBA the following year. No matter how hard he tried to force it, Skal's game just didn't fit the back to the basket style, so he ended up reverting to the face-up game he was comfortable with originally.
Skal was a fantastic presence on the defensive end throughout the year, but he developed a bad habit of fouling instead of coming away with clean blocks. He progressed as the season went on, but it's still a work in progress.
So how will he translate to the NBA?
One of my good buddies from within the organization happens to practice with the team, and he told me throughout the year that Skal would end up being on the same level as Anthony Davis when he puts it all together. During practice, he would bring the ball up the court like a guard, handle it with confidence, and stroke it from behind the three-point line. He'd send shots into the stands on defense and dunk on anyone in his way. What he was able to do at his size was just elite, and that's something that should stick in the minds of Boston fans.
He showed flashes of brilliance from the get-go, but when it came to backing down someone with size and strength in the post, he'd get punished. When he played defense against a quality scorer, he'd foul. He's just so new to the game and so raw right now to produce anything major right away. A few years out when he has an NBA-quality workout regimen and packs on a ton of muscle, however, this kid will be a stud.
I'm fairly confident someone in the lottery will snatch him up, but if he somehow, someway falls to 16, you just have to take him. People fall in love with the term "potential," but I haven't seen a prospect with this kind of it in a long time. He'll frustrate the hell out of you for a few years, but he has the tools to become a major force in the NBA.
Skal Labissiere Photo: Vicky Graff
For more Celtics news, follow Jack Pilgrim's Twitter account: @JackPilgrimKSR.
6/18/2016 10:30:00 AM