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30Q: Was Skal’s late season production fool’s gold or the real deal?

Can he translate that performance to something more next year?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

While the Kings were pretty terrible in their post-Boogie efforts last season, falling to fourth-worst in the league with an 8-16 post All-Star break record, one of the few bright spots during those losses was Skal Labissiere. After spending the majority of the year developing his skills in Reno, and only playing more than 10 minutes in a game one time prior to the blockbuster Cousins deal, our late first rounder showed encouraging signs of progress in the latter part of the season.

I remember sitting in the Talking Stick Resort Arena (yes, that’s really the name) in Phoenix and watching Skal drop 32 points and 11 rebounds on his trade partner, Marquese Chriss, including 16 in a row and 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Kings to a 107-101 victory, the first Kings win I’ve ever seen in person. He was knocking down mid-range jumpshots, hit a three-pointer, drew six shooting fouls, and dominated the game in every way, and he didn’t even start the game!

The questions I’ve been asking myself since the season ended are: were those flashes of brilliance simply against other tanking or resting teams or was he consistent in his late-season production no matter who he was facing? With the entirety of Labissiere’s solid play coming after the All-Star break, and half the league tanking to get a better draft pick during that same time period, was our rookie only able to perform against the worst of the worst?

To determine if that’s actually the case, the most sensible thing to do is compare his numbers against contenders vs tankers. With a minimum qualifier of five minutes played in a game, Skal faced 16 playoff bound opponents and 13 non-playoff teams last year.

Per Game

Level of Competition G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BLK TOV PF FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT%
Level of Competition G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BLK TOV PF FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT%
Playoff Opponent 16 5 18.72 8.1 4.5 1.3 0.3 0.9 2.1 3.5 6.4 55% 1.1 1.7 67%
Non-Playoff Opponent 13 7 23.37 11.9 6.8 0.5 0.7 1.5 2.2 4.6 8.8 52% 2.5 3.5 71%

At first glance, the numbers don’t look very encouraging. There’s almost a four point per game difference as well as two rebounds and two free throw attempts. However, Labissiere also lost almost five minutes per game against playoff-bound competition. If we resolve that difference by adjusting his time on the court to match his minutes against tankers, we can truly see if he can only compete in garbage time.

Equal Playing Time

Level of Competition G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BLK TOV PF FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT%
Level of Competition G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BLK TOV PF FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT%
Playoff Opponent 16 5 23.37 10.14 5.6 1.6 0.3 1.2 2.6 4.4 8 55% 1.4 2.1 67%
Non-Playoff Opponent 13 7 23.37 11.9 6.8 0.5 0.7 1.5 2.2 4.6 8.8 52% 2.5 3.5 71%

The gap closed quite a bit when the playing time gap was also closed. While most of his numbers are still a bit down across the board, that’s also to be expected against the top-tier teams in the NBA. Overall, it’s a bit of a relief to compare the numbers on an equal playing field.

Next Year’s Impact

While 10-12 points and 6-7 rebounds per game is solid, those aren’t the numbers you necessarily want to see from your starting power forward, especially as he’s looked at as a key part of our future core.

The good news is that Skal should be playing more than 23 minutes per game. He’s projected to be the starting four on opening night, especially if Zach Randolph can’t get himself out of the weeds, and the focus will also be placed squarely on developing our youth this season. If Labissiere plays starters minutes, 36 per game, he suddenly looks like a quality starter for this team.

Per 36 Minutes

Level of Competition MPG PPG RPG APG BLK TOV PF FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT%
Level of Competition MPG PPG RPG APG BLK TOV PF FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT%
Playoff Opponent 36 15.6 8.6 2.4 0.5 1.9 4 6.8 12.3 55% 2.2 3.2 67%
Non-Playoff Opponent 36 18.3 10.4 0.7 1.1 2.3 3.4 7.1 13.6 52% 3.9 5.4 71%

Now, I don’t honestly believe that our sophomore forward will put up averages of 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, as both overall efficiency and metrics tend to drop as minutes increase. There’s certainly room for growth as there is with any rookie, especially a late first round pick. He fouls way too often and his numbers tend to peak and valley from night to night, but I do believe he’s going to surprise a lot of national media members with his performance in the 2017-2018 campaign.

In the latter part of last season, Skal was able to produce solid numbers against playoff contenders and tankers alike. In fact, four of his six top scoring games came against post-season teams, including a near triple-double against the Golden State Warriors. He was able to demonstrate his ability to score in a variety of ways from a variety of places, rebound the ball effectively, and impact the game in multiple areas.

We don’t quite know what we have with Skal Labissiere yet. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance, nights of frustration, and the usual growing pains with new players in the league, but I can confidently say that our sophomore forward’s performances last year were anything but fool’s gold.