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Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein evolving as the future of Sacramento Kings

It may took some years to fully showcase, but what the Kings have now with Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere is purely special.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The DeMarcus Cousins trade was one of the more shocking, unexpected, and groundbreaking trades in the history of the NBA. It grouped together the two best big men in the NBA in New Orleans, but what it also did was completely restart the Sacramento Kings' rebuilding process.

After years of waiting and trying to win with their superstar center, the Kings pulled the trigger and got some valuable talent in return. Not only did Sacramento get former Kings' star Tyreke Evans and a pure shooter in Langston Galloway, but they received a possible franchise player in Buddy Hield.

However, it hasn't been all about who the Kings got for Cousins, but who was going to get their first real chance now that Cousins was gone. When one former Kentucky great left, two more came and took his place. Two former beloved Cats in Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere have stepped up in what has been a new beginning for the Kings. Their play as of late shows that the future of the Sacramento Kings is in good hands.

Cauley-Stein spent a long time waiting for a full opportunity with the Kings, with no prevail. The former 6th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Stein got decent minutes and had some good games as a rookie but could never show what he was truly made of. Not with Demarcus Cousins in front of him.

All of that changed after Cousins was dealt. In the first game after the trade Cauley-Stein put up a career high 29 points along with 10 rebounds in a big victory. Since then it's been smooth sailing for Willie. In the 7 starts that he's made since, Cauley-Stein is averaging 14.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and averaging more than 20 minutes more per game than he had as a reserve.

As Willie begins to evolve more and more as the Kings' full-time center, the better of a player that he is going to become. He is becoming more and more comfortable being the main guy in the low post, and it has shown in his numbers. The points are going up, the rebounds are going up, and the more games he plays, we begin to see more and more of that eminent defensive prescience that Willie Cauley-Stein was at Kentucky.

The common misconception with Skal Labissiere is that going to Kentucky ruined him. Yes, Labissiere struggled at Kentucky more so than any top recruit has in the Calipari era. Skal went from debatable number one pick to bottom of the first round, from program changing player to low-minute role player. It was far from easy for Labissiere, but those who watched Kentucky know just how much the programmed bettered him.

Despite what many would call a collective disappointment, Skal spent his one season at Kentucky learning and getting himself better. He may have struggled to get minutes for most of the year, but the Skal Labissiere we all saw in those final few games was a brand new player from what he was originally.

Many say that John Calipari failed the kid, and even Cal himself has said the same. However what Skal learned at Kentucky would go onto to further his potential in the NBA. Calipari taught Labissiere how to be an NBA big man, and whether you agree with Calipari's handling of him or not it is evident that it has evolved Skal into a future NBA star.

Labissiere has seen a major increase in minutes since the Demarcus Cousins trade. In the 11 games since the trade Skal has had 6 games of double-figure scoring, 9 games of at least 5 rebounds, 8 games of 50% or better shooting from the field, and a career game that can be considered Labissiere's true breakout game.

In Wednesday's game against the Phoenix Suns, a game in which Skal's teammate Tyler Ulis got his first career start, Labissiere simply took over the game. With an astonishing 32 points on 11-15 shooting along with 11 rebounds, Skal had what was perhaps the best game by any rookie this season in what was also a 107-101 victory for the Kings.

Skal may have been chosen 28 picks into the 2016 NBA Draft, but he has shown the entirety of the NBA just how worthy he is. Losing a player the likes of Demarcus Cousins is far from easy to handle, but what the Kings have found are valuable gems that they can build their franchise around.

We know this for sure, the post-Boogie era for Sacramento has begun, and it is in the hands of two of Kentucky's finest. It may took some years to fully showcase, but what the Kings have now with Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere is purely special.