2016 NBA Draft Scouting Report: Skal Labissiere

Feb 9, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Skal Labissiere (1) reacts after dunk the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs in the first half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Georgia 82-48. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Skal Labissiere (1) reacts after dunk the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs in the first half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Georgia 82-48. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports /
Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports /

Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere was the crown jewel of John Calipari’s top-ranked 2015 recruiting class. The 6-11 forward, originally from Haiti, found himself perched atop Rivals‘ class of 2015 recruiting rankings having even beaten out LSU’s Ben Simmons — who some had compared to LeBron James — for the honor. Just a few months removed from the Wildcats’ nearly perfect season, Labissiere was meant to be a key piece of the latest Kentucky team destined for a magnificent year. The Wildcats were pegged as a preseason title favorite and the number one team in the country in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll.

Kentucky burst out of the gates to a 7-0 start, including an impressive 74-63 win over Duke at the Champions Classic, before faltering in its first true road test of the season at UCLA. Follow that with a neutral court loss to Ohio State just over two weeks later and analysts were starting to ask serious questions. Fingers were immediately pointed at Labissiere, the star recruit who had so far failed to live up to expectations. “Calipari had to take Labissiere out of the game down the stretch because he’s still not tough enough for the big moments,” CBS Sports‘ Matt Norlander wrote.

Norlander’s criticism would ring true for the majority of Labissiere’s freshman season. Quite frankly, the youth wasn’t prepared for the rigors of college basketball. He lacked the necessary strength and awareness to immediately impact games against tougher competition. Of the collegiate players on our latest Big Board, only Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo averaged fewer minutes per game this year than Labissiere (15.8 minutes per game).

However, the Haiti native had his flashes of brilliance — especially towards the end of the season — that showcased why he was seen as such a promising prospect coming out of high school.


Labissiere averaged a lowly 6.6 points per game during his time in Lexington while shooting 51.6 percent from the floor. His pace-adjusted per 40 minutes numbers reflect similar struggles. At 16.8 points, Labissiere ranks above only two other big man prospects in our top 60 — Deyonta Davis (16.4) and Stephen Zimmerman (14.3). If you’re feeling generous, you can add Chinanu Onuaku (16.7), Caleb Swanigan (16.0), and Prince Ibeh (9.4) to the list. Only one of those players, Michigan State’s Davis, has lottery potential like Labissiere.

Labissiere’s early offensive woes were the product of a combination of his lack of physical stature and his coach’s insistence that he be a presence on the low block. John Calipari used a similar tactic to develop the offensive game of Karl-Anthony Towns just one year earlier, but Towns had the strength at 250 pounds to battle with even the most mature college players. At a nearly identical height, Labissiere weighed in at just 225 pounds before his freshman season. The lack of strength manifested itself as he was regularly pushed out of position and took away entry passing lanes from his guards.

The concern among scouts will be that Labissiere didn’t add any weight during the season. In fact, he weighed nine pounds less at the NBA Combine, clocking in at 216 pounds. The power forward prospect has cut his body fat by three percent, which would hopefully suggest that he’s added some muscle, but there are real questions surrounding whether or not Labissiere can fill out his frame. He’ll need to add at least 20 pounds to be competitive with NBA players like LaMarcus Aldridge, a 240-pound forward for the San Antonio Spurs and perhaps the best comparison for Skal’s NBA ceiling.

Like Aldridge, Labissiere is most comfortable operating in the mid-range where he can face up his opponent and knock down elbow jumpers or attack his defender off the dribble. He has excellent footwork and mobility when used in pick-and-pop actions, which will likely be his most effective skill in the NBA. Towards the end of the season, Calipari more actively helped Labissiere operate in space by doing just that and the decision opened up his offensive game in wins over Florida and LSU in early March. Labissiere has an excellent free throw line jumper with good form and a high release point. He does have a bit of quick gather where he brings the ball down to get into rhythm, which may cause him a few problems, but when put into space, he’s capable of knocking down jumpers with regularity to become an offensive threat.

One skill that Labissiere didn’t flash often in games this season, but showed early on during Kentucky’s open practice was his ability to attack opponents off the dribble Whether it was a lack of confidence in his handle or coach’s orders, the freshman didn’t actively look to attack much off the bounce. However, this is an area of Labissiere’s game that’s worth keeping an eye on going forward as it would help add another dimension to his offensive skill set.

Despite his lack of strength, Labissiere does have good foot work in the post and his hook shot is quite impressive. When he’s able to get position on the low block, the 20-year old is capable of negotiating a clean release for his hook shot by using his pivot foot and nearly 7-3 wingspan to create a clean release. Most impressively, Skal can knock down the shot with both hands.

Outside of his scoring, Labissiere isn’t ready to offer up much else on the offensive end at this point. He’s not a ball stopper on offense, but he’s also not a great passer. He averaged less than one assist per 40 minutes during his freshman season and finished with an assist rate of just 3.6 percent. His 13.1 percent turnover rate is a bit higher than you’d like to see out of a big, but only a few other forwards in the draft produced fewer than his 2.3 turnovers per 40 minutes when adjusted for pace. Labissiere does have the length and instincts to be a decent offensive rebounder. However, his lack of strength is noticeable on the boards. He will be able to clean up opportunistic chances as a result of dribble penetration and distracted defenders, but we’re not talking about the next Tristan Thompson on the offensive glass.


Defensively, Labissiere’s most impactful skill is his rim protection. He averaged 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman and posted a block rate of 10.3 percent. At nearly 7-0 in shoes with a 7-2.5 wingspan, he has the length to be a very good, but maybe not elite shot blocker at the next level. Weirdly, Labissiere’s standing reach at the NBA Combine was measured at just 8-9.5, but on multiple occasions prior, including at Kentucky’s early season “combine” and the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit, he measured in at 9-0. As you can see in the following collection, the 20-year old has excellent timing on his shot blocking, a good feel for the game, and his agility allows him to rotate within the paint to challenge opponents at the rim.

While rim protection is Labissiere’s major plus on defense, there are plenty of concerns relating to his basketball IQ on that end of the floor. He missed out on plenty of basketball during his final two years of high school — due to a back injury as a junior and eligibility issues as a senior — which probably stunted his knowledge development on defense. At various times this season, Labissiere failed to help on mismatches, chased blocks, missed back cuts, and failed to stay on a three-point shooting bigs. You can see such slip ups in the compilation below.

Finally, while Labissiere’s lack of strength is noticeable, but not devastating on the offensive end, it does cause cause him some troubles on defense where he can be physical relocated by stronger players. He struggled mightily on the boards as a freshman, grabbing just 8.0 rebounds per 40 minutes. That is one of the lowest marks among collegiate big men in the draft pool and is only slightly better than Brandon Ingram’s 7.9 boards. Additionally, the lack of strength is a problem for Labissiere’s post defense. Without a strong lower body, he’s vulnerable to being backed down by larger players. Both of these problems are highlighted in the clips below.


Once thought of as a potential number one pick, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere suffered a rather precipitous drop during his lone season in Lexington. The 20-year old prospect struggled with the physicality of the college game and his lack of experience playing against high-level competition bred the wrong kind of plays that became talking points for draft analysts. At least a year older than many other power forward prospects, there are also questions surrounding his ceiling — both physically and on the court.

Still, there are few other prospects in the class with Labissiere’s size and skill set. Washington’s Marquese Chriss will turn heads with his athleticism and potential three-point shooting, but at 6-9, he’s a bit of a tweener and recently compared his game to Rudy Gay, a small forward. Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis is an excellent pick-and-roll forward with the potential to be a strong rim protector, but he doesn’t have the shooting range of the Kentucky big man.

Given his impressive shooting form and the range on his jumper already, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Labissiere knocking down three-pointers in the NBA within a few seasons. If he can develop that range, he could become one of the best scoring power forwards in the league. However, the big question for Labissiere is whether or not he can pack on the pounds necessary to battle with the brutish NBA power forwards that he’ll inevitably be asked to matchup with. Being older than other freshman won’t help him in this regard as his body is already more mature.

Where Labissiere will ultimately fall in June is anyone’s guess. He has reportedly impressed in workouts during the draft process, but his ceiling is likely in the bottom half of the top 10 as a result of his underachievement at Kentucky. It’s hard to imagine, though, that he’ll fall into the 20s. Despite his failures, Labissiere is still a very talented player with reasonably high upside. Now the question is if he can fulfill the potential that made him one of the most sought after recruits in the land just a short time ago.