Why Skal Labissiere should be the Kings’ starting power forward
The DeMarcus Cousins era is long gone in Sacramento.
After trudging through years of controversy-filled mediocrity with DeMarcus Cousins at the helm, the Kings’ decision to offload the multi-time All-Star was the culture shock that they so desperately needed — as well as what set in motion the development of one of the league’s better young cores.
Sacramento will now need to sift through a myriad of talented prospects in the backcourt, while their veteran additions in free agency help bring some guidance to a team that’s finally building towards the future, rather than embracing the cyclical disappointment of years past.
George Hill will be the starting point guard without impediment, but De’Aaron Fox will be fighting for playing time alongside Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Malachi Richardson and Vince Carter.
One through three is a loaded group rotationally, and Dave Joerger’s toughest job this season could be dispersing playing time amongst that group.
With that said, however, the backcourt isn’t the only spot that lacks certainty for this Kings squad. They also have a noteworthy group of kids and vets that will be vying for playing time in the frontcourt — and the battle at power forward could get especially interesting.
The three names worth watching here are fairly obvious: Skal Labissiere, Zach Randolph and Harry Giles. Willie Cauley-Stein will almost assuredly start at the five spot, while Kosta Koufos — for youth’s sake — will likely be relegated to backup minutes at the five.
While you could argue that all of those names have a more natural fit at the center spot in today’s league, the Kings’ roster isn’t set up for such luxuries. Even with Hill manning the one spot, Sacramento’s goals for next season will (or at least should) revolve around player development, which means getting their young guns on the floor as much as possible.
That already trims Zach Randolph, who found success as the Grizzlies’ sixth man last season, out of the equation. You’d be hard pressed to not start Skal Labissiere at that point.
I’ve been a noted fan of Harry Giles and his game for quite some time. I had him ranked at No. 18 on my personal big board, and he was once the top recruit in last year’s class before knee injuries decimated his athletic profile.
If he were able to get any semblance of the explosiveness he had in high school back into those knees, extended professional success wouldn’t be a surprise.
Labissiere, however, holds tantalizing upside of his own — and is a categorically better prospect until Giles is able to show that type of improvement.
The former Kentucky prospect was a top recruit in his own right entering his yearlong stint under John Calipari, while Labissiere’s talent was indicative of a player who should have gone in the lottery back in 2016.
Although his collegiate run wasn’t great, all of the positives in Labissiere’s arsenal seemed to shine through last season. Even in limited playing time, his defensive presence improved significantly for Sacramento, while his mobility made him an offensive threat across the board — something he wasn’t able to provide in Lexington.
He runs the floor well in transition, and his 3-point shot showed flashes of consistency throughout the season’s latter half. He’s still at his best when prodding the interior, but his exterior game has blossomed enough to yield success alongside another true five in Willie Cauley-Stein.
In spot up situations, Labissiere was excellent as he scored 48 points in 39 possessions, according to Synergy Sports. That is 1.231 points per possession, which puts him in the top 30 of the entire NBA.
His post-up statistics are also very good according to Synergy Sports. He scored 61 points in 63 possessions, which ranks him top 47 in the NBA.
With that said, both Labissiere and Cauley-Stein also pair nicely on the defensive end. Labissiere has the lateral quickness needed to contain smaller wings when forced out to the perimeter, with his length allowing him to recover well off of blown drives.
Cauley-Stein brings those same benefits on a larger scale, boasting the type of multi-positional versatility that rarely manifests in a 7-footer. We all remember his defensive highlights while at Kentucky.
Two players of that size who can switch screens, cover a lot of ground and protect the rim affords Sacramento a nice safety net on the defensive end — and could quietly make them a plus defensive team when considering the defensive prowess of their foremost backcourt pieces.
Randolph and Koufos are more than deserving of time off the bench, while Giles should get some extended run as a well. But the Kings’ frontcourt, for the time being, needs to be focused around their two best pieces: Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere.
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