When Skal Labissiere committed to the Kentucky Wildcats, the hopes for him were stupendous. And why wouldn't they be? Labissiere had a 96 scout grade, was number two on ESPN's Top 100, was No. 1 at his position and played in the Jordan Brand Classic game.
Labissiere had achieved every individual accomplishment that you would need to be hailed the next great basketball talent. When this recruiting class was brought together, UK fans were not just hoping, but almost expecting Labissiere to be a vital piece of a National Championship Wildcats team this season.
Now, if Kentucky can pull out a tournament run in the insanity known as the 2015-2016 college basketball season, it seems that Labissiere will not be a major factor in the run.
Simply put, Labissiere's game has not translated to the NCAA at all. With Kentucky this season, the Haitian native has just 6.5 PPG, and 2.9 RPG. Part of his low scoring average comes from the difficulty he has had in conference play.
In SEC play, Labissiere has been in double figures in the scoring category just twice. Once against the Arkansas Razorbacks, where he put up 11, and once against the Missouri Tigers where he scored 12.
Furthermore, it's clear that the team suffers from his poor scoring nights, as in Kentucky's seven losses, Labissiere's highest-scoring game was against the UCLA Bruins, where he put up just six points, which is the only time that he has scored even five points in a loss.
Unfortunately, his rebounding numbers are just as bad, if not worse. Not once has Labissiere had 10 boards in a game this season, and he has had four games in which he did not record a single rebound. Being the "big man" on the floor, it seems preposterous to not record a single board in one game, let alone multiple games. To explain his low rebounding numbers, it simply comes down to his size.
At 6'11", 220 lbs, he's about the same size that Anthony Davis was in college. Davis, however, averaged 10.4 rebounds in his one season at UK. The difference is the tenacity. Davis was ferocious in the paint. He used his long arms to swat down shots and outreach everyone else on the floor to grab rebounds.
NBADraft.net explains it best in their explanation of Labisseire's weaknesses, saying, "He could have been more active when trying to block shots as a help defender and rebounder."
That was a description of Labissiere in high school, and the one main weakness that the analysts there found has carried over and hurt UK's center in college. This has been crippling for Labissiere. Playing the center position, he has to be tough and tenacious. The lack of intensity causes him to get pushed around, leading to weak scoring numbers and underwhelming performances on the boards.
That brings us to what Labissiere has to do to meet the original expectations from the Kentucky fan base and those who analyzed his game in high school. Labissiere has to toughen up. His size is very similar to Davis' and that was seen as a problem for Davis.
Even as AD averaged double-digit rebounds and almost five blocks per game in college, many were concerned about his narrow frame. He had the numbers to make the doubt irrelevant, but the potential injury issues due to his inability to hang in with the bigger guys in the NBA caused some people (though not many) to be concerned.
Labissiere struggles with the same strength and weight issues that Davis did, but his toughness and intensity down low is not up to par. Labissiere cannot succeed in college, let alone in the NBA, if he cannot show more toughness in the paint.
Skal Labissiere has shown that he has the talent to play great basketball. He has the height and length to succeed down low, but what he lacks in physical size as far as strength goes, he needs to make up for with smart play and intensity in the paint. Labissiere has not shown that yet, as he has been unimpressive in that area.
If Labissiere can toughen up, he can become what everyone expected him to be and be a centerpiece of this very talented and very young Wildcats team.