Ex-Cats

‘It’s a process’: How Skal Labissiere stays upbeat when the minutes suddenly vanish

Sacramento Kings forward Skal Labissiere (7) takes a rebound against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif.
Sacramento Kings forward Skal Labissiere (7) takes a rebound against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee

Don’t worry about Skal Labissiere. He wouldn’t want you to.

That’s because the former University of Kentucky standout doesn’t feel sorry for himself. It’s as if the second-year Sacramento Kings forward is incapable of having a bad day, even when he doesn’t play at all in a game.

It’s the perfect mentality, given the imperfect science that is player development in the NBA, where as Labissiere has learned, playing time can be inconsistent or nonexistent. He’s also realized there’s no reason to get into his feelings about the situation.

“It’s a process; I’ve got to trust it,” Labissiere said. “At the end of the day, I know I’m going to get to where I’m supposed to be. I know God’s got my back and I’m just going to keep working and continue to control what I can control.”

Labissiere showed flashes he could be a good scorer last season as a rookie, but those flashes came in the last 25 games of the season when the Kings weren’t playing for anything other than a better draft pick, like many other teams do after the All-Star break.

The result is a lot of games of summer-league quality in NBA arenas.

Labissiere averaged 10.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and shot 54.1 percent during that stretch. This season has been different. Labissiere expected to be more consistent, but his scoring, rebounding, minutes and shooting averages have fallen.

He’s averaging 7.4 points and 4.1 rebounds on 45.5 percent shooting, and has even done a stint in the G League. Labissiere said his time with the Reno Bighorns wasn’t so much as a demotion as it was a chance to find his rhythm and have fun.

“I think with Skal, I just try to stay on him about just like, ‘It can change so quick,’” said center Willie Cauley-Stein, another former UK player. “It’ll change so quick. From getting 18 minutes to all of a sudden you’re getting 30 minutes. It can change like that in a matter of a few adjustments, so he’s just got to stay ready. You know what you’re going to get out of Skal, he knows what he can give, so when he’s out there, score the ball and make as less mistakes as you can on defense, and you’ll play.”

Kings Coach Dave Joerger tells a player when there’s a chance he will not play him for an extended stretch of games. Labissiere has dealt with that more than once, which isn’t easy for someone who has started 15 games this season.

Still, his positivity and confidence are unwavering.

“Just come back in here and work,” Labissiere said. “I’ve always been working; I’ve always been in here. If I’m not playing over the next two or three games, I just work out, treat it like the offseason and just get my work in and stay ready for the next opportunity.”

Those opportunities are more likely to come with regularity if Labissiere makes strides defensively. He had a career-high 15 rebounds in Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte, but still has to show more growth on defense.

But therein lies the conundrum of player development.

Joerger isn’t going to leave Labissiere on the floor to continue to make mistakes. However, how will Labissiere learn if he can’t play through problems, or fears if he makes a mistake, it will earn him a seat on the bench in a hurry?

“It’s tough but it’s part of it,” Cauley-Stein said. “I spent two years feeling that same feeling, but this year I’ve gotten over that feeling. … It gets bad when you’re not learning from the same mistake that you’re doing. The difficult part is you’re making the same mistake, and you’re not understanding how to fix it. That’s a different problem than making a mistake and playing through it — when you’re making the same mistakes, you kind of give the coaches a good excuse to use.”

Labissiere said through it all he is still having fun, contrary to the sour mood some might expect of a player in his circumstances. And because he has not been on social media most of the season, he’s unaware of the support he receives from fans who want to see him on the court more.

So he smiles, and waits for things to work out.

“I’m not worried about it at all,” Labissiere said. “I just come in here and work. That’s going to speak for itself.”

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