Skal Labissiere: dropping in the Mocks – will Raptors take a chance?

This candidate for the Raptors’ lottery selection has had a poor season. Is he worth the risk of drafting?

We continue our series examining Toronto Raptors potential draft picks with a player I normally wouldn’t bother to write about. One of my rules is to look for players who display improvement. Skal Labissiere, a Haitian-born power forward at Kentucky, has fallen off a cliff in scouts’ minds during this, his first, and probably only, college season.

You might reasonably ask why I’m writing a post, and asking you to read, about a fellow who’s had a disastrous year. Skal doesn’t turn 20 years old until next week. He’s seven feet tall, with a 7’2″ wingspan. He’s an international player trying to fit into KU coach John Calipari’s system, and being punished with the bench because he hasn’t. I’m not prepared to write him off.

I remember Tracy McGrady’s introduction to the NBA. He was drafted by Isiah Thomas out of high school (back when you could still do such things) and flayed in the press by the Raptors coach at the time, Darell Walker. Then Walker decided he’d had enough, and Butch Carter got the top job. McGrady received the support he craved but didn’t get from Walker, and became a star.

Mar 5, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Skal Labissiere (1) dribbles the ball as LSU Tigers center Darcy Malone (22) defends in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 5, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Skal Labissiere (1) dribbles the ball as LSU Tigers center Darcy Malone (22) defends in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t want to besmirch other teams and cities, but there are very few places in the NBA which would be more welcoming to Skal than Toronto. He’s not an American, and his first language is French, like Bismack Biyombo. While most Haitian-Canadians are in Montreal, there’s a growing community in Toronto.

The Raptors are much better suited to player development than they have ever been. We have a minor league entity where he can get a bunch of minutes under expert tutelage, using the plays the big club runs. The Raptors have opened a superb training centre. There are people, like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who can take a young man under their wing and show him how to be a pro.

That’s all well and good, but can Skal help us, and when? I’m breaking another rule in considering a project player, although he wasn’t viewed as one when the college season opened. Most respected analysts thought a coachable, eager-beaver fellow like Skal would lead Kentucky to great things. He hasn’t, though there’s still time. His numbers are bad, but he’s not on the floor a lot, as Calipari is one of those irksome coaches who benches players out of pique.

Skal has decent form on his jump shot, and sound timing & positioning on his rebound attempts. He digs in hard on defense, and mostly (but not always) looks for a body to box out. He’s a decent ball-handler, which is essential for me. A big man who can’t put the ball on the deck is of little use in today’s game. One Antonio (Bad Hands) Davis was enough for this fan.

If I were evaluating him, I’d look very closely at his extremities. Guys with meat hooks for hands, like Kawhi Leonard or Dr. J (the amazing Julius Erving) can last a long time in the business. Huge feet are essential for extremely tall players; if he’s any shoe size below 15, pass. I’d also want to assure myself his upper body can support some increase in its dimensions. Skal will get pushed around unless his core strength improves.

Big men mature later. Let’s see how Skal makes out in the tournament.