After one year at Kentucky, Skal Labissiere is yet another example of how little NBA teams care about your college performance.
In his lone season at Kentucky, Labissiere began the season in the starting lineup -- but by the time Southeastern Conference play rolled around, Labissiere was coming off the bench, averaging just 13.2 minutes, 5.3 points, and 3.1 rebounds per game. That sounds like a guy who could use another year at Kentucky -- right?
Well, it's possible that Labissiere could help his draft stock by returning to Lexington. On the other hand, he's currently projected as a lottery pick: NBADraft.net (as of 6/8/16) has him going to Phoenix at 13, and Draft Express (as of 6/7/16) has him going to Orlando at 11. Sports Illustrated (as of 6/3/16) is a slight dissenter, pegging him at 15 to Denver -- that's (technically) out of the lottery, but just barely.
Why on earth would NBA teams be so interested in using a lottery pick on a Kentucky backup?
As usual, the answer is "upside." At the NBA Draft combine, Labissiere measured 6'11.75" in shoes with a 7'2.5" wingspan. He didn't participate in the athleticism tests, but Labissiere has always been thought to be athletic for his size and has polish that didn't really show in his one year at Kentucky.
What's more: There are legitimate reasons for Labissiere's struggles as a freshman. He missed practically his entire junior season of high school with a back injury, and he was ruled ineligible by Tennessee's high school athletics governing body for his senior season. In other words, his freshman year performance at Kentucky was as much the result of having spent practically two years off from basketball.
There was also the issue that he didn't really have the strength to bang down low in the SEC (he weighed in at 216 pounds at the combine -- almost spectrally thin for a 7-footer), but NBA teams will view that as a fixable problem. Even while playing just 13 minutes a game, Labissiere did average 1.5 blocks per game.
To put that in perspective: on a per-minute basis, Labissiere averaged more blocks than Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet, who was the SEC's leading shot blocker in 2015-16.
Meanwhile, his performance at the combine reminded NBA teams why he'd been projected as a top 5 pick before the season started. Labissiere already has a pretty good jump shot for a big man, and while he needs a lot of work on doing big-man things like rebounding, the NBA in recent years has placed a lot of value on big men who can stretch the floor.
So Skal Labissiere's 2015-16 season likely gave NBA teams enough pause to knock him out of the top 5 -- but he still has so much upside that it's tough to see him falling past the middle of the first round. Athletic 7-footers don't grow on trees, and athletic 7-footers who actually have some basketball skills are even rarer still.