Welcome back into The ‘Shop for another week of NBA-related banter between our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene. The two of them will get into:
Jabari: Alright Lang, always good to be back in the mix with you. Let’s kick things off with the Cavs and the addition of Kyle Korver. Particularly, because he’s been in your market for these last few years and you’ve seen the best and worst that he has to offer. Korver isn’t quite the player he was a few years ago when he nearly went 50-50-90 (48.7 percent/49.2 percent/89.8 percent) from the floor/three-point line/free-throw line, but he’s still one of the league’s top shooters and will be joining a squad that will undoubtedly get him the type of looks shooters would die for. One, what are you expecting from Korver down the stretch? Two, would you like to reassess your opinion on the best team in the league now that Cleveland has added a piece like Korver?
Lang: My man. As the church folks say “it is good to be in the number” this week. A lot of stuff to get to this week and you’re starting us off with a banger.
My first thought when I heard the news that Kyle was traded to Cleveland was that the old adage of the rich getting richer was true. No, Korver isn’t at All-Star form like he was in 2014 but to paraphrase Reggie Miller – the shot never leaves you. I think Kyle is in the perfect spot as his career winds down. Remember, he entered the league playing with Allen Iverson in Philly. Think about that. In my view, Cleveland gets a steal. Kyle is a solid team defender, total professional and damn near automatic shooter with any type of space. He will get plenty of clean looks with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James slashing into the lane causing havoc.
Personally, going to miss Kyle here in Atlanta. Always good for a nice quote and his work in the community here is also worthy of note. Let me end with this … Cleveland IS the team to beat. Period.
Jabari: Speaking of teams to beat, while I think Golden State is still clearly the best Western Conference team, is it possible that Houston might actually be the best (eventual) threat to dethroning the back-to-back WC Champs? I guess, the better question might be whether this style of play that leans so heavily upon one player as the main, driving force can ultimately be as successful in the postseason?
Lang: I don’t think anyone is capable of knocking out the Warriors in the West. But I also said this about San Antonio last season and look at what Oklahoma City pulled off. I think Houston would be a live dog in a series versus Golden State, but they have injury issues (and/or concerns) that I would like to see resolved. How will Clint Capela come back from his extended absence? Also, guys such as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have been known to be brittle in the past. Their style of play also concerns me. The Cavaliers dethroned the Warriors last season with physical defense. The Rockets’ philosophy this season is about outscoring their opposition. No one … and I do mean no one … is beating Golden State in a track meet.
Jabari: I can’t fault you for thinking no one could or would have beaten San Antonio last year, especially once Steph Curry got hurt early in the playoffs. The uncertain nature of sports (injuries, matchups, etc.) is precisely what makes each season so much fun. Plus, as someone that bought in “hook, line and sinker” to what Minnesota was supposed to be bringing to the table this season, I can’t question anyone’s predictions!
That said, I tend to agree with you regarding the most likely way to beat these Warriors. It simply isn’t going to happen by attempting to outscore or outrun them. Speaking of things not (necessarily) working out the way we anticipated, now that we are right around the halfway mark for most teams, what are the biggest surprises and disappointments so far this year for you?
Lang: Like you bought into the Minnesota Timberwolves prematurely, I put all my stock in the Detroit Pistons making a bigger leap this season. So I think that’s one of the disappointments for me. I thought after getting a taste of that postseason nectar, the Pistons would enter the season favored more times than not to leave an arena with their hands raised in victory. I know, Reggie Jackson getting hurt early has played a role so we’ll see how things ultimately play out.
A pleasant surprise has been the play of James Johnson down in Miami. Listen, his numbers aren’t going to blow you away, but his play for a team going through the fire right now has been strong. He’s probably playing himself into a nice multi-year deal somewhere. Salute to him. I definitely was surprised by DeMar DeRozan’s early scoring barrage and defying the statistical crowd by shooting long twos and still giving folks that work. And how can I forget about the Houston Rockets. Who had them balling this hard? Who? Show me! James Harden has brought his can this season and is a legitimate M-V-P frontrunner.
Jabari: What’s funny about it is that you were one of the only ones telling us to pump the brakes on Minnesota and I have never been a believer in Detroit taking that next step. In fact, I’ll be straight up about it… I’m not a believer in the Andre Drummond hype anywhere near the level as (seemingly) most others. I’ll admit that I don’t watch a ton of Pistons basketball, but I tend to check out five-to-10 full games (not including highlights and recaps and such) of most teams per season and never feel like they are as good as others seem to think they are… or want them to be. As a guy who still appreciates big men like Drummond (whether you can win with a team ‘centered’ around them at this point or not), and someone that REALLY appreciates Sir Pepsi Swig as well, it’s absolutely nothing personal against them or the team. I just don’t see them as a true threat of any kind in the Eastern Conference.
Not mad at that James Johnson reference in the slightest. The HEAT aren’t going anywhere but to the top of the lottery (they HOPE), but Johnson and others still compete and play hard. That, and the fact that Johnson recently introduced your boy Steph to his personal poster party:
Play basketball long enough, you’re bound to get dunked on. Some of us just wind up on the wrong side of SportsCenter Top-10 lists.
I agree that Harden has usurped the Westbrook train at this point, but still think Russ has time to make another push after the All-Star break when it comes to the MVP discussion – especially if Houston runs into any additional injury issues with some of those players you mentioned in particular. For me, DeRozan’s continued progression has been great to witness, not just because he is a Southern California native (shameless reference), but the same reason you mentioned. I appreciate outliers and anomalies like that. I also appreciate someone that sticks to what they know and are best at. DeRozan is a mid-range and deep-two phenom and (clearly) isn’t about to change that while he’s playing so effectively and efficiently.
Transitioning to some rookie and young player talk, while I love that “Basketball Twitter” continues to entertain and enlighten (in some cases) on a nightly basis, part of me really hates the fact that we have become so intent upon labeling and determining a player as either a “bust” or the “next great” within 25 games of a guy’s career. I’m not even limiting that to “fans” as it seems like more and more writers and analysts are becoming guilty of this as well. I realize we are watching more basketball and discussing it even more than ever before, but the demand for 19- and 20-year-old players to enter the league as polished and poised products from the moment they walk on the court seems as futile as it is foolish.
Lang: I have one reaction for that James Johnson dunk on Stephen Curry: WhewLawd. My goodness. Steph knows better than that. Got to read the scouting report a bit more. As a player, you have to know who has the springs to deliver. But like I’ve told you before, Chef Curry offensively serves the plates, but defensively, guys put him on the main menu.
Let me go back to DeRozan for a second. A few years back, I remember Damian Lillard and him huddled up for what seemed like an eternity in Las Vegas during summer league. A few months later, I asked DeMar about it and he said they naturally just push each other to be great. In a competitive way. Hold each other accountable for working on their respective games. I thought it was really cool. So while some people don’t like the idea of guys being so cool with each other nowadays, there’s definitely a benefit to those relationships.
Personally, I just try to enjoy the game. I don’t get too high or too low on these guys. Most players in the NBA will produce “stats” if given minutes, but we also don’t know what each team is asking of these guys. Sometimes guys don’t have the green light to pull up from 17 feet. Sometimes guys are told to facilitate and are used as decoys to get other guys off. I learned a long time ago watching the league that just because a guy isn’t doing something doesn’t mean they can’t do it in another system. Guys like DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore come to mind.
I see former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was waived the other day. It’s not shaping up too well for him, to get cut on a lottery team devoid of top talent. If you’re judging him as the number one overall pick, then it is okay to call him a bust. But he didn’t get to choose where he was drafted. If he was drafted No. 16 overall, he likely would’ve had the necessary time to get acclimated to the game with less pressure. Blame the Cavaliers for skewing the expectations and (likely) shortening the man’s career span.
Jabari: Great reference with that story about Lillard and DeRozan. That type of kinship and camaraderie is what makes it really fun to be able to peek behind the curtain as we cover the league. I also agree with you on the Bennett situation, as that was more about the Cavs simply making a foolish choice with that top pick. It seemed, essentially, like a “well…why not?” choice based on pre-draft hype rather than making an actual informed decision. I know the draft wasn’t chock full of top-tier talent, but Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert sure would look incredible with this group. So would Giannis, but I’ll leave that alone.
Bennett is now a legitimate candidate for bust status, but “we” are also beyond quick to label guys that are progressing at completely normal pace for young players. Take Brandon Ingram, for instance. The kid turned 19 (NINETEEN) in September, but folks were acting as though he was some sort of disappointment simply because he didn’t hit the court scoring 30 points a night. Not to pick on fans that focus on stats, but he’s a prime example of a player you cannot solely judge based on the box score. Not only does he influence the game in ways that don’t necessarily show up, but you won’t get a true appreciation for how vast his skill set is unless you actually take the time to watch him. To start the year, I said he would be that guy you suddenly look up and say, “WHOA, where the hell did THAT come from?!?” at some point during the second half of the year. He’s already making those types of plays all over the court, and doing it with regularity at this stage. Are there any young players, beyond Ingram, that you expect to see really take a step forward here in the second half?
Lang: I feel you. Fans’ expectations are tough to live up to. For instance, they saw Ingram scoring close to 20 a night in college and the team loses Kobe Bryant to retirement. So they expect a new top-dog type to come in and wreck shop. When they see a guy averaging 7-8 points a game and not putting up highlight reel packages on YouTube, the casual fan is going to gripe. I am a boxing guy, as you know, but not many people appreciated the brilliance of Floyd Mayweather. The technical skill, precision, alluding thunderous shots by centimeters in order to land a counter. People said he was running and would prefer to watch guys like Arturo Gatti (RIP). I mention all of this to say, only a small segment of any population is going to appreciate the subtle things. While you can appreciate the slip screen and the pass-to-assist percentage Ingram may provide, casual observers want something more visible.
Also, it’s tough for some fans to determine how good some of these guys are when they come into the league playing well within a system. Spotting an Allen Iverson or a Karl-Anthony Towns is easy because they destroy guys. I think people are spoiled by some guys coming into the league right out of the cereal box ready to perform. Guys like Shaq, Penny, C-Webb, Zo, AI, Duncan, Admiral, etc. came into the L ballin’ – no assembly required. For the record, Ingram will be fine. He has a high basketball IQ and there is a beauty in his patience in a market that is a pressure cooker. Shows maturity to me.
Jabari: No doubt, but the difference between many of the guys you listed and these new players is those guys went to school three of four years (in many cases), so they were more complete products by the time they made it to the league. So many of these current guys are one-and-done that there’s simply no way for them to be as polished at 19. For the record, you know I appreciate that boxing reference and since we were just talking about one of the thinner players in Ingram (not to mention your reference of AI earlier), let me get your top-five pound-for-pound players right now? For those unfamiliar with the idea, they would specifically be players that play “larger” or make more of an impact than you’d expect. For example, people might look at a player like Larry Nance Jr. at face value and not realize all of the ways he actually impacts the game (on both sides of the court) when he’s healthy and available for the Lakers. Let me get your top “little guys” OR Odom/Battier-type players for right now?
Lang: In boxing, the pound-for-pound designation is a way to compare fighters in varying weight classes. Heavyweights will never fight welterweights, but P4P evaluates fighters as if they were the same size.
At the top of my P4P list is Isaiah Thomas. Smaller guy, enormous heart.
Second is Damian Lillard, he is so Oakland. Tough. Now we just have to work on his defense. Ha. But he’s on my P4P list without a doubt.
Third is Patrick Beverley. Tenacious.
Fourth is Chris Paul – no explanation needed.
Finally, Russell Westbrook. He is eleventh in rebounding. He averages more rebounds than DeMarcus Cousins. Let. That. Sink. In.
Remember, this list is off the top of my head so Hoop Freaks don’t kill me. I’ll add two more though: Andre Roberson and Draymond Green. Those guys get after it.
Jabari: LOVE this list, but would also include Kyle Lowry to that mix with the how he’s playing this season. Folks, if you feel like we are missing anyone that deserves to be in this discussion, then remember to let us know about it in the comment section!
Going to introduce a new segment this week and it will come in the form of a ‘final shot’ of sorts. This will be an opportunity to address any topic (whether NBA related or not) before signing off. So, let me get your final shot of the week.
Lang: Final Shot: Hoops Freaks take the time to appreciate this current era of dominant guards. We hear all the time about the death of the big man. And this may be true from the fact we likely won’t see another Shaq, Hakeem, Admiral or Ewing in the post. But the big man in his new incarnate is on the way. I’m talking seven-footers pulling off crossover pull-ups out at the three-point line. Seven-footers euro-stepping and shooting 20-foot fadeaways. Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Greek Freak and Kristaps Porzingis are here and it’s amazing to watch. Throw in guys like Hassan Whiteside and Nikola Jokic out in Denver, and it becomes clear as day to me that the big man is alive and well. LG Out.
Jabari: LOVE this, too! You know I will forever be on #TeamBigMan, so I appreciate that reality check for those claiming the position is “dead” or anything like that. The game continues to progress and change over time, and each position is no different.
My final shot goes to the fellow fans and Hoop Heads who continue to show support and provide feedback for these weekly discussions. I know there were some that didn’t ‘quite’ get it at first, but S/O to those that stuck with us and keep providing topics and questions for us to address.
Beyond the comment section, remember to tag us with the topic of your choice via Twitter: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
NBA PM: Skal Labissiere Ready For Increased Role
After a promising finish to his rookie season, the stage is set for Skal Labissiere to break out in year two.
Through the first half of Skal Labissiere’s rookie season, he logged just 52 minutes and 20 seconds of playing time, all spread meekly over a total of eight games. Then the Sacramento Kings made the shock decision to trade DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break and everything changed for the talented power forward. Any theoretical training wheels came off with the Kings spiraling toward another high lottery pick and Labissiere turned in a promising 25-game stretch. Alongside Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein, the trio exhibited the type of young, athletic potential that the franchise has sorely missed as of late.
Highlighted by a 32-point, 11-rebound effort against the Phoenix Suns in mid-March, Labissiere’s surge had onlookers drooling at his untapped potential. At 6-foot-11, Labissiere is a roaming menace on the court already — clever and crafty in the paint, but just as comfortable out at the elbows. In an era where high-flying dunks and deep three-pointers rule the news cycle, Labissiere and his old-school bag of tricks don’t exactly stand out but that’s about to change. Even as a rookie, his immense body control and excellent footwork were almost worth the price of admission alone, a bona fide steal after sliding to the No. 28 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Following the All-Star break, Labissiere averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on 51.6 percent shooting from the floor, most often spotting up from mid-range or deftly maneuvering his way near the rim. By all accounts, Labissiere was a prospect on the rise, a worthy building block in Sacramento for years to come.
Armed with a slew of draft picks in June, the Kings took home a promising haul of youngsters that consisted of De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. With first or second-year players two deep at every position on the depth chart — although that stipulation does include 25-year-old Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has played five professional seasons overseas — it appeared as if the Kings were embracing a full-on youth movement. But with consecutive years of franchise instability tugging at the front office’s heels, they opted to sign some much-needed veteran experience in the form of George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph.
For now, thanks to the final name on that list, a completely unleashed Labissiere is unlikely to show up on the opening night of the 2017-18 season. Hopefully, it won’t stay that way for too long. Of course, Randolph as an on-court mentor makes logical sense for the recently bulked-up sophomore as Labissiere, despite his size, often found himself bullied by sturdier competition. Over eight seasons in Memphis, Randolph’s hard-nosed toughness became the Grizzlies’ calling card and identity, traits that this new era of Kings basketball would surely like to embody moving forward.
Shortly after signing a contract worth $24 million over two years, Randolph turned 36 years old — so, in all likelihood, the veteran’s arrival isn’t a permanent roadblock for Labissiere, but instead a very important detour in his blossoming career path. Aside from Randolph’s take-no-prisoners attitude, there are few current players that utilize their size and strength as well as he has. While Labissiere already displays an innate smoothness in the post, it was often when he rose up for floaters or while draining a turnaround jumper. A little dose of viciousness on the block could help Labissiere take his game to the next level and there’s no better fit than Randolph in that regard.
Even if those assumed qualities of Randolph don’t immediately rub off on Labissiere, it’s fair to say that the latter is well on his way to exceeding his low expectations after a disappointing collegiate career. In his one season at the University of Kentucky, Labissiere averaged just 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in a paltry 15.8 minutes per game and many scouts questioned the power forward’s competitiveness and desire to compete at the highest level. These criticisms led to one of the most sought-after high school recruits in his class to not only drop out of the lottery but almost out of the first round altogether.
Fifteen months later and Labissiere is looking more and more like a can’t miss NBA prospect.
In four preseason games this month, Labissiere has featured heavily for Sacramento despite head coach Dave Joerger’s mass experimentation. Sure, he hasn’t exploded for any 30-plus point outings yet, but his full arsenal has been on display — from dancing in the paint to catching Fox-tossed alley-oops, it’s all there. On top of that, Labissiere spent the summer expanding his three-point range, a tool that would make him even tougher to defend. Remarkably, Labissiere had an efficient rookie season in which he shot 55 percent from 10-to-23 feet out. Shots from those distances made up 39.4 percent of his total attempts, so it’s clear that his glossy jumpers weren’t an aberration — that’s just his sweet spot.
The mid-range game is certainly a dying art in today’s NBA landscape, but Labissiere has called it home thus far. In punishing those that give him space with a silky jumper or driving by defenders that commit too far in closing out, Labissiere has become a handful to guard, even if the box score doesn’t always show it. He wasn’t awarded the luxury of stepping into a guaranteed role like Kristaps Porzingis or Karl-Anthony Towns did as rookies, but there’s an outside chance Labissiere could emerge as the NBA’s next big thing.
Coming out of college, Labissiere was tagged with a number of different professional comparisons. From Channing Frye to Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka, Labissiere’s affinity for the midrange and his hyper-athletic vertical have made him difficult to nail down. Maybe then, instead of looking for a similar player, it’d be simply easier to recognize that Labissiere has one of the more unique skill sets in professional basketball.
In other words: Skal is Skal, there’s no way around it — just enjoy the show.
This offseason, Labissiere reportedly focused on bulking up and stepping back even further on his shooting range. His massive 7-foot-2 wingspan and tantalizing athleticism make him a must-watch player headed into the 2017-18 campaign. If that three-point range is the real deal — and his stellar mid-range percentages point toward a natural improvement there — then look out. At first, Randolph’s arrival seemed like the Kings were pumping the brakes on a strong finish to Labissiere’s rookie season, but that’s not likely the case at all.
At this point, Labissiere is no longer that mixed bag prospect that more than half the league passed on drafting — he’s a unique tweak on today’s modern court-running, jump-shooting big man. Equipped with both an old-school post game and new era athleticism, the stage is set for Labissiere’s breakout season in Sacramento.