“Potential” is one of the most overused words during the NBA’s draft process, but that’s because executives fall in love with young, high-upside players every single year. These players are typically raw, but they’re ripe for molding and could someday become a star. If you’re a teenager with freakish athleticism, jaw-dropping measurements, some nice game film and the ability to showcase your skill set in workouts, the NBA draft process will be kind to you.
Which brings us to Skal Labissiere, who spent last season with the Kentucky Wildcats. In his lone collegiate season, Labissiere averaged 6.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 15.8 minutes per game.
So why, then, is he projected as a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft? Why were 23 NBA teams in attendance (including general managers R.C. Buford of the San Antonio Spurs, Dell Demps of the New Orleans Pelicans and Tim Connelly of the Denver Nuggets) for his pro day in Florida?
Despite his struggles at Kentucky, Labissiere is one of the most intriguing players in this draft class. He just turned 20 years old in March, and teams believe that he has the physical tools and talents to become a special player down the road if put in the right situation.
The glimpses of brilliance were few and far between, but enough to make executives drool over his raw potential. He finished the season averaging 24.5 points, 11.7 boards and 6.1 blocks per 100 possessions. He posted an Offensive Rating of 107.8 and a Defensive Rating of 96.9.
In Basketball Insiders’ latest Consensus Mock Draft, Labissiere is slotted No. 7 by Moke Hamilton, No. 9 by myself, No. 10 by Steve Kyler, No. 11 by Joel Brigham. DraftExpress currently has Labissiere projected to go No. 11. It seems clear that he has solidified himself as a lottery pick.
“Wherever I get picked, I’m going to be working,” Labissiere said. “It’s nice to be picked really high, but it’s all about the right fit. I’ve seen guys drafted over the years in the top 10, top 15, top five or whatever, and they never flourish in the league. For me, it’s all about [fit]. I want to be a long-time player in this league. It’s all about finding the right system, the right coach that’s going to put me in the right position to succeed.”
At the 2016 NBA Draft Combine, Skal measured in just a bit under seven-feet, with a 7’2.5 wingspan and 8’9.5 standing reach. This was impressive; however, there was some concern over his weight since he was just 216 pounds with 5.7 percent body fat. This was even less than the 225 pounds Kentucky listed him at during his freshman year.
One focus of his pre-draft training at the famed IMG Academy has been bulking up. In addition to all of the on-court work he is doing, he has a customized weightlifting regimen and works with a nutritionist. Trainers also run through strength and conditioning drills with Labissiere (and the other NBA draft prospects) on IMG’s football field. This intense focus on bulking up seems to be paying off.
“Oh definitely; I’m back up to 220 pounds,” Labissiere said of his weight gain. “That’s where I was last summer, and I definitely take that very seriously. I think as I get stronger and bigger, that’s going to really help me moving forward. Learning how to fight in the post and being a physical presence down there, that’s going to be a big part of my game.
“I’ve been working really hard since the season ended. I’ve worked on a little bit of everything, so I just came out there [at my Pro Day], did my best, tried to make shots and hopefully did well.”
Despite the disappointing results with John Calipari and the Wildcats, the big man spoke highly of his time with the elite program.
“It was nice [to show some new things], but Kentucky really helped me a lot,” Labissiere said. “I would say Coach Cal did a really good job at pushing me every single day at practice. At games, I had to learn a lot at Kentucky, so I definitely think that will help me at the next level. Now, everything else is kind of easier because of my experience at Kentucky. It was good to get out there and show that I have some more in my [skill] package, but I worked on those things at Kentucky and now I’m working on them here at IMG, where they’ve done a really good job of expanding my game. I’m just thankful for it.”
Immediately after his workout ended, NBA executives and scouts swarmed to grab a moment of his time. These days, many NBA decision-makers want to get in front of Labissiere, with nearly every top-10 team attempting to schedule a workout and many outside of that range (and some within) being turned down. Right after his Pro Day workout, the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets stole Skal away from the horde for back-to-back meetings.
“Right now, I’m just enjoying the process; I’m having fun with it,” Labissiere said. “I get to focus on just basketball, which was always something I looked forward to, so I’m very excited about it. I am staying level-headed, continuing to work hard, staying humble and going to these workouts to show them what I can do and keep working hard.
“There’s always something you can work on, that’s the way that I look at it. I’m always trying to find things to improve on. For me, there are a lot of things that I need to work on. Going into the league, I’m a learner. I’m ready to learn from whoever. Hopefully I get on a team where I have good veterans I can learn from, and then I think I’ll be successful.”
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