Skal Labissiere arrived in the United States in August of 2010, about six months after a catastrophic earthquake devastated his home country of Haiti. Despite having played very little organized basketball up until that point, he began to emerge as a promising prospect as a high school freshman, and received a scholarship offer from Kentucky as a sophomore. Unfortunately a stress fracture in a vertebrae in his back derailed his junior year of high school, and he was ruled ineligible to compete as a high school senior, which seemingly set back his progress significantly.
Nevertheless, Labissiere had an outstanding week of practices and scrimmages at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland in April of 2015, before impressing mightily in the actual game as well, posting 21 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks in 27 minutes of action in a win over Team USA. He entered the season universally projected as a top-two draft pick, but looked overmatched in the opening weeks and months of the season, both from a physical standpoint, but also mentally, as he was on an incredibly short leash from the coaching staff, and quickly lost his confidence and played timidly in the limited minutes he did see.
The intrigue around Labissiere begins with his outstanding physical tools. He stands just a hair under 7-feet tall in shoes, with a 7'2 ½ wingspan and a 9-foot standing reach. His frame is very light at the moment, at just 216 pounds, and hasn't added a great deal weight in the past few years, but looks highly proportioned, with big shoulders and solid legs that should fill out significantly in time with the right strength and conditioning program.
Labissiere moves about as well as you can hope a 7-footer to, being highly fluid and agile with nimble footwork, and the ability to run the floor smoothly and get off his feet quickly and effortlessly. He can make plays above the rim on both ends of the floor, but also covers ground rapidly in the half-court.
That, combined with his very soft hands, makes Labissiere an excellent target for lobs, cuts and as a pick and roll finisher, as he can slither around opponents quickly and finish with purpose around the basket. While he doesn't have the strength, nor the mentality, to emerge as a prolific back to the basket option at the moment, he shows some potential as his frame fills out with his strong footwork and soft touch throwing in jump-hooks with either hand, as well as knocking down smooth turnaround jumpers over both shoulders.
The place where Labissiere's impressive skill-level shows up most vividly at the moment is from the perimeter. He has outstanding shooting mechanics, with terrific balance, footwork, touch and the ability to create separation like a guard elevating off the floor and knocking down jumpers with a high release point, even off the dribble. That mostly translated to knocking down pick and pop jumpers in the mid-range area as a freshman, but he should be able to develop his picture perfect stroke into a weapon that extends out to the NBA line in time as well.
The next step in Labissiere's development as an offensive player is developing his playmaking and ability to make quick decisions on the fly, something any player that operates on the perimeter needs to be able to do in today's NBA. He registered just 11 assists in 567 minutes this past season, with a 3.6% assist percentage that ranked as the third worst among prospects in our Top-100 rankings. Labissiere's lack of experience and underdeveloped feel for the game are noticeable at times, as the game often just moves too fast for him, something that contributed to his struggles in seeing playing time as a freshman. The tentativeness he developed from being afraid to get yanked from the game after the slightest mistake, didn't help matters.
Defensively, Labissiere shows plenty of promise, but was very much a mixed bag in his lone year of college basketball. His ability to cover ground, the quickness in which he gets off his feet, and excellent timing made him a prolific shot-blocker using both hands already as a freshman, as his 4.2 blocks per-40 minutes was the second best rate of any prospect in our Top-100. He also shows nice potential as a pick and roll defender, as he's light on his feet, can hedge and recover effectively, and can contest shots on the perimeter nicely in switching situations using his length.
On the downside, Labissiere is still very raw on this end of the floor, as he averaged more fouls per minute than any other player in our Top-100 rankings, which limited his ability to stay on the floor. Labissiere lacks both discipline and awareness, as he bites on pump-fakes way too often, and struggles to read developments off the ball, posting just nine steals in 567 minutes, which is tied for the third lowest rate in our Top-100 on a per-minute basis. While his fundamentals on offense are very strong, he has poor habits on the defensive end, playing on his heels too frequently, being hunched over in his stance, and often just being a step late to make plays rotating over from the weak side.
Labissiere's lack of strength is an issue, but so is his lack of toughness. He is a little bit too nice for his own good at times, as he tends to get pushed around in the post frequently and doesn't always fight back the way you might hope, which will be an issue if he's asked to operate as a small-ball center like big men in today's NBA are increasingly asked to. He's a poor rebounder for that reason, with his 5.5 defensive boards per-40 ranking second worst among all big men projected to be drafted.
He often gets caught in no-man's land trying to protect the rim, and will be a hair late with his rotation in turn, which exposes the offensive glass. He'll need to do a better job of picking and choosing his spots as a rim-protector, but also will need to improve his focus and motor, as he doesn't always look like he's operating at maximum intensity.
While Labissiere is old for a freshman, even older than a handful of sophomores who are currently projected to get drafted, such as Wade Baldwin and Domantas Sabonis, his upside is regardless significant. He got a much later start on basketball than almost any player in this draft, and missed crucial development years as a high school junior and senior that put him at a major disadvantage going into college. He also didn't receive the minutes he needed early on in the season as his coach preferred to spoon-feed older players (such as Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress) rather than invest in his development, putting him on a very short leash and trying to develop him into a back to the basket player rather than taking advantage of his perimeter skill-set.
Nevertheless, Labissiere's physical tools, skill-level and defensive potential are tailor-made for today's NBA, as every team in the league is currently looking for ultra-mobile big men who can run the floor, protect the paint, space the floor, and finish around the rim. Add in the fact that he has been lauded for his work ethic and character by everyone he's been around, and you have a project that an NBA team picking in the lottery is very likely to take a chance on, potentially very early on in the draft.