Skal Labissiere made the only sensible move and entered the 2016 NBA Draft


Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere announced Tuesday that he’s entering the NBA Draft.

I tweeted the news.

Among the first responses was this:

I’m not posting that tweet to bring any attention to Mike, who seems like a nice guy. I’m only posting it because it’s the most common question I get any time I mention an underwhelming college player is entering the NBA Draft. And I genuinely never understand the question. So I guess I’ll respond to that question with some other questions. Like …

Ready for what?

And who the hell cares?

Now, to be clear, we could have a long conversation about whether Labissiere will start his professional career in the D-League, and we could debate for hours if he’ll ever be a relevant NBA player. But, for the purposes of this column, those things are totally beside the point. Because the bottom line is the bottom line, and the point is this: Skal Labissiere will almost certainly get picked in the first round of June’s NBA Draft, and probably in the lottery of June’s NBA Draft. And that means he’ll spend next season playing basketball somewhere for a paycheck in excess of $1.5 million rather than competing for playing time, and possibly further damaging his NBA stock, at Kentucky.

And people are questioning whether this is wise?

Get out of my face.

Right now, there are still NBA franchises that remain more intrigued with Labissiere’s skillset and upside than they are concerned with his lack of production at the collegiate level. But what would happen if the 7-foot forward returned to Kentucky, struggled again and got caught in a numbers game with UK’s returning bigs and UK’s three top-30 national recruits who are frontcourt players — most notably Bam Adebayo and Wenyen Gabriel?

Then Labissiere’s hypothetical lack of production would be a bigger issue.

And the 2017 NBA Draft will be way deeper.

So Labissiere could find himself in a much worse spot a year from now.

So why risk it? Especially when you’re from Haiti?


I first met Skal Labissiere in 2012. He had just finished his freshman year of high school. We sat at a coffee shop in Memphis and talked about how he went from an earthquake survivor to a top prospect in the Class of 2015. And one thing I remember asking is how his parents were doing back in Haiti. He told me they were fine. I asked if they’d rebuilt their home.

“No sir,” Labissiere answered.

“So where are they living right now?” I asked.

“In a school,” Labissiere answered.

More than two years had passed since that earthquake devastated Haiti, and Labissiere’s parents were still living in a school building. And now somebody thinks he should pass on millions of dollars? Again, get out of my face. Because, for those unaware, projects Labissiere to go 10th in the 2016 NBA Draft. If accurate, he’ll sign a two-year contract worth $4.1 million. And even if he never actually plays in the NBA, he’ll get that $4.1 million, which is more money than most reading this will make in a lifetime.

I think people lose track of that sometimes.

We hear so much about five-year deals worth $100 million, and three-year deals worth $30 million, that we often forget two-year deals worth $4.1 million are still crazy relative to the money normal folks make. It’s a great contract for a 20 year-old. And there isn’t another 20 year-old who’d ever be questioned for taking a two-year contract worth $4.1 million.

Only student-athletes.

Imagine if your neighbor came to you, and she was a journalism major, and she said her options were to sign a two-year deal with the New York Times for $4.1 million or return to her campus newspaper, where she may or may not have a prominent role while she writes stories for a scholarship and cost of attendance stipend. What advice would you give her?

It’s not even a question, is it?

And yet if you change the words “journalism major” to “basketball player” it changes the opinion of lots of people, which I’ve forever found amazing. And that doesn’t mean I think every underclassman should enter the draft as soon as possible. As always, I’ll leave it up to them. For instance, Buddy Hield was a borderline first-round pick last year. But he wanted to return to Oklahoma and try to lead his school to something special while improving his stock. And he did both of those things. So good for him. I’m happy for him. And I’m sure he made some memories that he’ll cherish forever and are above monetary value.

But Skal Labissiere’s situation is completely different.

For starters, Labissiere is already a projected lottery pick. So there’s only so much room for him to improve his stock. And, as I’ve explained, he could get caught in a numbers game at Kentucky next season. And, as I’ve explained, next year’s draft will be deeper at the top. So whereas Hield had a lot to gain and little to lose by returning to school considering he was already an established college star who was going to have a terrific senior season no matter what (barring injury) and then enter a weak draft, Labissiere had little to gain and lots to lose by returning to school considering he might’ve never become a college star and could’ve ended up spending next season on Kentucky’s bench.

Bottom line, he had to go.

It would’ve been crazy and risky to not go.

And now we’ll all sit back and just hope for the best.

In a perfect world, a franchise will select Labissiere, make him a millionaire, and then he’ll spend the next few years developing into a useful NBA player like so many other one-and-done prospects who entered the NBA before many thought they were “ready” — most notably Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan. If not, hey, at least he got paid like a future star before anybody realized he wasn’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’m wishing for the former.

But the latter isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Six years ago, Skal Labissiere nearly died in an earthquake in a poor country still struggling to rebuild. Today, he announced a decision that’ll likely make him a millionaire this summer. And if you can’t understand why that’s really smart, then you’re probably kinda dumb.

Skal Labissiere is making the smart choice by turning pro. (USATSI)
Skal Labissiere is making the smart choice by turning pro. (USATSI)

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