At the dawning of his third year with the Sacramento Kings, Skal Labissiere still has a lot to prove and a more crowded front court to prove it in. The Haitian sensation has obviously been hard at work this summer, as his new LaBUFFiere physic shows. But offseason development doesn’t mean much until it turns into in-game production. In a 30Q piece last September, our resident ruminant mammal posed a question: “was Skal’s late-season production fool’s gold or the real deal?” Fast forward a year, and this question is no closer to being answered.
Does Labissiere have a future with the Kings? Well, they certainly need guys who can do this.
The Kings roster three other young bigs who are all squarely in the “work-in-progress” category when it comes to shooting. Sure, Willie Cauley-Stein has improved his shot every season, Harry Giles flashed range in Summer League, and Marvin Bagley has a solid shooting foundation for his age... but aside from Nemanja Bjelica, the Kings lack a big-forward who is going to generate offensive gravity when they are away from the basket. And the hope with Skal was always that he could become that stretch big that the roster has always lacked. Problem is, he wasn’t efficient at it last year.
In the last 22 games of his rookie season, Labissiere averaged 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds a game on a 57.8% true shooting percentage—a percentage dropped to 51.3% in his sophomore year. Looking at his shot charts shows how the Kings tried to utilize Labissiere differently in that 2nd season.
Per Cleaning the Glass numbers, the Kings sacrificed Skal’s low-post shots (36% of his total attempts were at the rim in ‘16-17, which dropped to 30% in ‘17-18) to increase his looks from deep (from 3% in ‘16-17 to 10% in ‘17-18); his mid-range frequency stayed the same across both years at 60%. The plan was obviously to use Labissiere as a stretch-big. But his league-average efficiency from the mid-high post was the only positive efficiency growth. His mid-range success tanked (52.2% in ‘16-17 to 30.8% in ‘17-18), which tanked his efficiency as a pick-and-pop threat in Dave Joerger’s horns sets—he shot 39% on such shots (39th percentile), according to Synergy Sports. And that three-point shot never became a consistent or effective part of his offense, as his final 35.3% clip from deep was undermined by the low 10% 3PA rate. But it’s also key to point out that opponents were totally fine to give him looks from deep.
Aside from the odd slingshot motion at the end of his release, the key to that clip is how little Kristaps Porzingis was respecting his shot; across the entirety of the season, a whopping 94% of Labissiere’s threes were ‘open’ or ‘very open’, per stats.nba.com. (Of course, Skal did make a pretty contested three against New York a few months later, so basketball karma somewhat evens that out.)
Skal’s summer growth spurt shows he’s putting in the work, at least physically. And that added bulk will certainly help him in the paint on both ends of the floor—on offense, he was in the 14th percentile for post-up success (despite it being his most used play-type), and on defense, he was in the 44th percentile for guarding post-ups. It’s great to see Labissiere buying into the Kings gym-rat culture, and hopefully this offseason has given him the burst of confidence he needs to become a contributor in the NBA. But the Kings have to fit three more big men into the rotation this season, and have significantly more invested in Bagley and Giles than Skal. To earn those minutes—and a future with the team—Skal has to be aggressive AND efficient with his shooting. When the league is leaving a hopeful stretch-big open on 94% of his three pointers, he’s got to shoot that shot.