Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Dickie V Says Skal Labissiere Should ‘Absolutely’ Come Back…But Should He?
It is a measure of where the national conversation is on Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere that Dick Vitale said on an ESPN broadcast Saturday evening that Labissiere should “absolutely” return to campus for his sophomore season.
Vitale made the comments during the final seconds of Kentucky’s 76-57 blowout of Vanderbilt, a game in which the 7-foot Haitian sensation played just 4 minutes and failed to register a single point, rebound or assist. Kentucky coach John Caliparitold reporters that it wasn’t the game for Labissiere to play because of Vanderbilt’s style.
Apparently, it was the game for Derek Willis, who started, played 30 minutes and notched 7 points and 9 rebounds.
“Oh, absolutely [he should come back], I don’t think there’s any question,” Vitale said on air after Labissiere was re-inserted for the final two minutes of garbage time.
Still, should a guy who’s projected as a Top 10 pick — despite his declining stock — really come back? There’s no guarantee he’ll be in that same position a year from now.
Labissiere was once the No. 1 pick on DraftExpress.com — ahead of LSU freshman Ben Simmons — but he’s still No. 6 on that site and No. 8 according to ESPN’s Chad Ford.
“Oh, no, no, no, he’s gotta forget about that [the NBA Draft] because maybe it’ll be a three-year contract and over,” Vitale said. “That’s where a lot of guys make a mistake.”
I texted a couple of NBA guys to gauge their impressions on Vitale’s comments.
Here’s what one NBA executive said.
“Dickie V. is right,” the executive said. “[Labissiere] will not help any NBA team next year no matter where he gets drafted. I believe Skal’s people have already decided for him that he is coming out no matter what type of year he has.”
In that case, Labissiere could find himself on an NBA D-League roster at this stage next season.
While he possesses a vastly different body and skillset than Labissiere, former Kentucky big man Dakari Johnson is currently playing in the D-League. But imagine how much more of a factor Johnson would have been at Kentucky this season had he stayed? He’s exactly the kind of rugged big body this team needs this season to complement their guards Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray.
Still, while one assumes Labissiere would make a jump of some sort were he to stay at Kentucky, he would also be competing for minutes with a loaded frontcourt that will not only include returnees Tai Wynyard and Isaac Humphries, but incoming bigs Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones, too.
That’s five other bigs, and that doesn’t even include Marcus Lee (who could opt to return to campus) or Marques Bolden (who could choose Kentucky in the late signing period).
On top of that, the 2017 NBA Draft looks to be much deeper than the 2016 Draft, which appears to be top-heavy with about eight or nine key players.
Consider that the big men projected in 2017 first round according to DraftExpress.com are Harry Giles, Adebayo, Deyonta Davis, Thomas Bryant, Lauri Markkanen, Thon Maker and Jessie Govan, to say nothing of several international bigs.
So is Labissiere really better off staying at Kentucky another year when he will have to compete not only against Kentucky’s other bigs for playing time, but with those other bigs for draft position?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers but it’s clear that that this looks like a unique situation that Labissiere, his guardian, Gerald Hamilton, his family and Calipari will have to sort out after the season.
Labissiere and all the other college players will have more time this year to make draft decisions — until May 25 — but the NBA exec doesn’t think Skal will even participate in the Chicago Combine. Again, why should he when he’s projected as a Top 10 pick?
“It’s still early but my guess is he will still go in the lottery but there will be a lot of nervous teams in the lottery having to make a decision to take him based on his poor overall performance this year,” the executive previously told me. “He’s a total upside pick.”
This storyline is certainly interesting and, like the Republican Presidential nominating process, we will all watch it unfold in the coming months.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.