Labissiere goes off, gives Kings promise for future

Labissiere goes off, gives Kings promise for future

Sacramento Kings fans need a little ray of hope, something to pin their dreams to after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins over All-Star weekend. Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, a 6-foot-11 rookie reached into the sky and single handedly pushed the dark clouds to the side. 

Skal Labissiere sold some jerseys in Sacramento’s 107-101 win over the Suns. His 32-point, 11-rebound performance has the NBA buzzing and even the broadcast team got caught up in the moment.

“Can the guys shoot 3s?” long time play-by-play announcer Grant Napear asked on the telecast as Labissiere rose up from behind the arc in the fourth quarter. “YES. HE. CAN. Oh boy! Fasten your seatbelts, the Skal Labissiere era is underway in Sacramento!”

The Kings have taken a cautious approach to bringing along the 20-year-old big out of Haiti, but they are quickly realizing they stumbled upon a gold mine. Labissiere has a million dollar smile, an incredible story of survival, and he might just have the game to tie it all together. 

“I just want to give glory to God, that was him out there,” the humble Labissiere told CSN California’s Kayte Christensen. “I spent a lot of time before the game in prayer and came out here and just played. I just played hard and my teammates did a really good at finding me. Coach put me in a good situation to succeed.”

Coach Dave Joerger used restraint in bringing along all of the Kings’ rookies this season. Labissiere played 17 games with the Reno Bighorns of the D-League early in the year, but since the trade of Cousins, the Kings have shifted into rebuild mode. 

Development coach Larry Lewis and the rest of the coaching staff have worked tirelessly to bring the Kings’ young core along. Labissiere needed to learn how to play through contact and he has stacked on muscle to his lanky frame in order to compete. He’s still a work in progress, but his 21-point fourth quarter shows that he might be something special. 

“It’s Skal’s night,” fellow rookie Buddy Hield said. “Skal’s doing things. I’m happy to see Skal playing with a lot of confidence. He’s got a lot of potential and I just can’t wait to see what other great things God has in store for him.”

Even the veterans were caught off guard by the eruption from one of their rookies. Garrett Temple was so focused on shutting down sharpshooter Devin Booker that he didn’t even notice that Labissiere had posted his first 30-point game of his career until late in the game.

“He’s always been a confident guy, the thing with Skal is he’s so quiet, so humble, you don’t see it until he gets in between those lines,” Temple said. “We thrive on his energy, everybody loves to see him play well.”

With his teammates feeding him on almost every possession down the stretch, the former University of Kentucky big answered the call. He shot an impressive 11-for-15 from the field and knocked down 9-of-11 from the line in a career-high 30 minutes of action.

“He just knows he can play the game,” Temple added. “He puts in the work and he trusts himself, he trusts his work.”

The hype will build from here, which will likely make life more difficult on Labissiere. The Suns aren’t known for their defensive prowess and the Kings rookie spent plenty of time matched up against a fellow 2016 draftee in Marquese Chriss. Chriss, a Sacramento-native who is far from a lockdown defender in his first season in the league, was clearly overmatched. 

It was Labissiere’s night, but plenty of other Kings contributed as Sacramento picked up their second straight victory. Willie Cauley-Stein stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and four blocks. Arron Afflalo added 14 points and Temple helped hold Booker to just 6-of-26 shooting on the night. 

More to the story

It was Labissiere’s party, but there was a another member of the Kings organization that had a big night on Wednesday. General manager Vlade Divac has taken a beating for plenty of his decisions since taking over the Kings’ front office a little under two years ago. 

One of those decisions was to trade the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft for the No. 13, No. 28 and the draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Suns selected Chriss at No. 8 and he’s started 61 games in his rookie season for Phoenix. With the 13th overall selection, Divac chose Georgios Papagiannis, who has played very sparingly in his rookie campaign and is considered a project. 

Divac backed that pick up by taking Labissiere with the No. 28 pick. After watching the two go head-to-head, there is no question that Labissiere is further along in his development and the argument could be made that he also has a much higher ceiling than Chriss. 

The trade will take a few more years to fully evaluate, but the early returns are good for Divac and his staff. 

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.

 

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.