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.