Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Skal Labissiere’s vacillating draft stock is rising again

4 Comments

The buzz from the first day of the NBA’s pre-draft combine centers around former Kentucky center Skal Labissiere.

During a private workout for media members in Chicago, Labissiere reportedly put on a dizzying shooting display, one that has him firmly entrenched in the discussion as a lottery pick, even going as high as the top 10.

And that really shouldn’t be all that surprising if you’ve been paying attention.

Once projected as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Labissiere saw his stock plummet along with his confidence and playing during his one season in Lexington. Part of that was something that, in hindsight, we probably should have predicted. Labissiere didn’t play his junior season in high school due to a back injury and he played his senior season for something called Reach Your Dream Prep, a team that was created by his guardian out of thin air when a decision to transfer went south.

Put another way, Labissiere, who is a native of Haiti, never truly got a chance to get coached or to play a high level of basketball prior to his arrival at Kentucky.

There are differing opinions on what, exactly, went wrong with Labissiere during his tenure at Kentucky. Some will tell you he simply didn’t have the physical strength to contend with high-major big men, and there’s some legitimacy to that sentiment. At seven-feet, he was listed at all of 225 pounds. Some will tell you that Labissiere still didn’t understand how to play the game, that he had not learned how to transition the moves that he learned in workouts into a 5-on-5 setting or when and where he was supposed to be on the defensive end of the floor. There are others that will tell you that he didn’t have the mental strength to handle the way that John Calipari coaches his players. Cal is a screamer that demands perfection, and Labissiere was far from perfect early in the year; some kids respond well to that style of coaching, others go into a shell.

Whatever the reason, Labissiere was lost by the start of SEC play. He wasn’t ‘playing’ basketball, he wasn’t reacting to what happened on the court. He was ‘thinking’ the game. And when you think, you stink.

By the end of the season, as Labissiere started to figure things out a bit more, he started to play better. He had 11 points and eight boards in 15 minutes at Florida. Three nights later he went for 18 points, nine boards and six blocks against LSU. He had 12 points and six blocks in 23 minutes against Stony Brook in the first round of the NCAA tournament. You could see the flashes of what made him such a highly-regarded prospect during his high school years.

And that’s what the media got a glimpse of Wednesday night.

The bottom-line with Skal is this: He’s a 20-year old seven-footer with a frame that can add weight, the kind of fluidity that you never expect to see out of someone his size and a shooting stroke that could make him a better-than 40 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA.

Then look at the direction the league is headed. The phrase that people use is small-ball — thanks, Golden State — and I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. Talents like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are not replicable. To me, the correct phrase to use would be spacing, and the reason small-ball is the word gets thrown around is because there aren’t that many big guys who can hit NBA 3s.

Think about it. Marreese Speights won a ring last year and may win another one this year because … he’s a big guy who can hit 3s. The corpse of Channing Frye came back to life in Cleveland because … he’s a big guy who can hit 3s. Serge Ibaka shot six 3s his first three seasons in the NBA. He took nearly 400 the last two seasons combined.

Labissiere needs to add weight and get stronger. He needs to develop his game beyond being a pick-and-pop, spot-up shooter. He desperately needs to be coached, to be taught how to play basketball against the kind of competition that he’s going to see on a nightly basis in the professional ranks.

But his physical tools combined with his ability to shoot the ball makes him an attractive prospect at a position that is valued by NBA teams.

And in a draft that is as weak as this one at the top, someone is going to roll the dice on that potential. As long as Labissiere winds up in an organization that’s adept at developing players, there’s a good chance he can end up being a productive and valuable player at the NBA level for a decade.

Report: Kawhi Leonard didn’t travel with Clippers to Disney World, expected to arrive in few days

Kawhi Leonard in Orlando
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A Clippers-Lakers Western Conference finals – featuring Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James – is one of the most anticipated potential attractions of the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

But Leonard must get there first.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard did not travel with the team on Wednesday to Walt Disney World for the resumption of the NBA season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Leonard was given permission by the organization to tend to a family matter and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to join the team on campus in a few days, sources said.

Hopefully, everything is alright with Leonard and his family and he arrives as smoothly as this report indicates. The NBA has protocols for players who travel to Orlando after their teams. Leonard isn’t unique in having a personal issue delay his arrival.

But this situation bears especially close watching for two reasons:

1.  Kawhi Leonard might be the NBA’s best player. The Clippers are a top-tier championship contender. Leonard’s whereabouts hold more significance for the season than, say, Magic guard Markelle Fultz‘s.

2. The Clippers have misled to protect Leonard before. Though it was easy to see their logic, it leaves them with less credibility here.

Again, hopefully this is only a minor snag. We’ll know more within a few days.

Report: Nets signing Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford vs. Nets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Most points scored in a player’s last game (among non-active NBA players):

  • Kobe Bryant: 60 (LAL-UTA April 13, 2016)
  • Jamal Crawford: 51 (PHO-DAL April 9, 2019)
  • Alec Peters: 36 (PHO-DAL April 10, 2018)

It’s time to remove Crawford from the list.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A defensive liability who needs the ball in his hands, 40-year-old Crawford can still make difficult shots remarkably well. But most teams can build a lineup and system that consistently create more efficient shots than the tough looks Crawford specializes in.

The Nets aren’t most teams.

Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie are both out. Caris LeVert, Garrett Temple Chris Chiozza and Tyler Johnson are an underwhelming backcourt rotation.

Crawford can add scoring punch. With the point guard-deficient Suns last season, he also showed passing ability, though a good team won’t ask too much of him.

Reminder: The Nets will keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy, Brooklyn would probably convey a later pick to the Timberwolves next season.

If nothing else, this is a tremendous personal achievement for Crawford, who badly wanted to keep playing. He has kept in tremendous shape for his age and built a strong reputation in the locker room, earning himself more opportunities.  If everything goes according to plan, Crawford will join Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to play 20 NBA seasons.

Stephen Jackson peddles another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, says he’s misunderstood

Stephen Jackson
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM
Leave a comment

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has drawn criticism – including from the Eagles – for posting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory (incorrectly) attributed to Adolph Hitler.

DeSean Jackson apologized twice and pledged to educate himself.

Stephen Jackson insists he’s being unfairly maligned.

Stephen Jackson:

Today’s word is assume. Assume.

To all my Jewish people, I love y’all. Y’all took the video the wrong way. I said he was right stemming from a conversation we had before I got on Live about how they’re handling him and how they handled Cooper when he said the n-word. They didn’t handle them the same way, and that wasn’t right. And that’s what I was talking about. I love y’all. You’ll never find a video or article of me saying I hate anybody. Let me clear that up.

Assume. Today’s word. As a black man, you get pulled over by the police, they assume you’re about to run. They assume you’ve got drugs in the car. They assume you’ve got a gun. They assume the worst, right?

I didn’t say nothing about Jews or supporting Hitler at all in that video. But that’s what they assume I said. And y’all wonder why we’re fighting for equality. Because y’all assume the worst from a black man. I love everybody. I’ve always stood that way. Love for all who have love for all. So, why would you assume I hate somebody?

Too often, apologies get labeled as a “non-apology.” This is a non-apology.

When he said DeSean Jackson is “speaking the truth,” Stephen Jackson sounded like he was talking about DeSean Jackson’s Hitler post – not a private conversation with DeSean Jackson, as Stephen Jackson indicates now.

A reminder of what Stephen Jackson said about DeSean Jackson (emphases mine):

He was trying to educate himself, educate people, and he’s speaking the truth, right? He’s speaking the truth. You know he don’t hate nobody, but he’s speaking the truth of the facts that he knows and trying to educate others.

How do those bolded sections make any sense based on a private conversation between DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson?

If this is a case of Stephen Jackson simply not choosing his words carefully enough, it’d be far easier to forgive him. After all, he has now gone out of his way to say he loves Jews.

But Stephen Jackson doesn’t deserve much benefit of the doubt while he also spreads other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Fred Katz of The Athletic:

Police too often make negative assumptions about Black people. That should be addressed.

But, best I can tell, Stephen Jackson is being judged fairly here. He’s promoting anti-Semitic messages. He’s getting treated like someone promoting anti-Semitic messages.

Do I believe Stephen Jackson wants to be anti-Semitic? No. My best guess is his heart is in the right place while his head is in the wrong place. But Stephen Jackson is still spreading anti-Semitism. Even if that’s due to “only” ignorance, he can’t correct that until acknowledging his errors and learning from them. Blaming everyone else for misunderstanding him is not the answer.

Stephen Jackson is also wrong in his comparison to Riley Cooper, a white Eagles receiver who was caught on video saying the n-word in 2013. Like with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles released a statement criticizing Cooper. They didn’t cut Cooper. They also haven’t cut DeSean Jackson. Even if they eventually cut DeSean Jackson, I suspect they’ll follow similar guidelines: Deciding whether the player is good enough to offset the trouble caused by his reprehensible speech.

Magic player tests positive for coronavirus

Orlando Magic
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference keeps getting sadder. Somehow.

The Nets are decimated. The Wizards are missing their best players. And the Magic – who already have Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu sidelined – have complications with Markelle Fultz and another unnamed player.

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble Tuesday without an unidentified player who tested positive for COVID-19 and guard Markelle Fultz, whose entry was delayed due to a personal issue.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that Fultz is dealing with a personal matter unrelated to the virus. His absence is excused and the league is aware of his situation, according to Weltman. He said Fultz is following all safety protocols and expects a “seamless transition” for the guard’s return, although Weltman did not have a specific timetable for when that will be.

It’s unclear whether the unnamed player was among the 25 players the NBA announced tested positive.

Fultz and the other player will have to follow protocols for players travelling to Disney World after their teams arrive.

The Magic have D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard if Fultz is unavailable. But I’ll take Weltman at his word that Fultz will return to the team smoothly.