God, coach and teammates: Labissiere spreads credit for his 32-point explosion
The person least surprised that Skal Labissiere scored the first 16 points of the fourth quarter for the Kings on Wednesday night was probably himself.
Nothing seems to bother Labissiere, who wasn’t any more upbeat than normal after a showing that had his teammates in a good mood.
The rookie from Kentucky scored 21 of his career-high 32 points in the Kings’ 107-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Sacramento’s second consecutive win following an eight-game losing streak.
“I’ve been working,” Labissiere said. “Ever since I set foot in Sacramento, I started working. I wasn’t surprised at all. I’m looking forward to the future. I take it game-by-game ... watch a lot of film, spend a lot of time in the gym. I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Labissiere showcased his skills by making 11 of 15 shots and grabbing 11 rebounds to go with two steals. After the game, Labissiere’s teammates said they didn’t realize how many points he was scoring, but they were happy to be a part of his career night, the kind of game they believe he will duplicate in the future.
Just a really talented kid He’s super young so it’s only scary what he’s going to end up playing like. So that’s good, that’s our future.
Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein, on rookie forward Skal Labissiere
He was the first Kings rookie with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds since Lionel Simmons had 35 points and 11 rebounds on April 9, 1991, against Dallas. Labissere’s points were tied for the second most by a rookie this season, one behind Joel Embiid’s 33. He also became the first Kings rookie with at least 32 points since Tyreke Evans had that many points Feb. 3, 2010, against San Antonio.
“Just a really talented kid,” center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “He’s super young so it’s only scary what he’s going to end up playing like. So that’s good, that’s our future.”
Lately the Kings have been giving Labissiere more chances to show off what the future might look like. Labissiere has shown flashes of being able to score, but, prior to Wednesday, the most he had in a game was 15 points on March 8.
That didn’t mean he lacked the confidence to put on the kind of performance that he did against the Suns. But Labissiere’s confidence does not come across as arrogance, rather the fruits of the time he’s put into improving.
Labissiere’s fourth-quarter output helped the Kings outscore Phoenix 33-26 in the period and pull away. He made six of his seven shots in the fourth, missed only one of his nine free throws and had five rebounds.
“My teammates did a really good job of looking for me and putting me in good situations and that got my confidence going,” Labissiere said. “Not that I wasn’t confident to start the game, but they really trusted me out there.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger said the Kings have brought Labissiere along slowly, but he’s absorbing everything so more is being given for him to do on the court.
“We’re trying to just give him one or two things, then we add one more,” Joerger said.
The fourth quarter became a duel between Labissiere and Phoenix rookie Marquese Chriss for a stretch. Chriss, the former Pleasant Grove High Star, had 11 of his 17 points in the fourth.
The two will always be linked. The Kings drafted Chriss eighth overall in last year’s draft before trading his rights to Phoenix, which sent the Kings the 28th pick as part of the deal. That pick was used on Labissiere.
“Skal took over, Skal played well,” Phoenix coach Earl Watson said. “He’s a unique player. He has length, he gets to a spot, he elevates, he jumps so quick and so high ... he and Marquese can battle for the next 10, 15 years.”
Cauley-Stein had 14 points, 11 rebounds five assists, four steals and four blocks rebounds for the Kings (27-41), who rested starting point guard Darren Collison and key reserve Anthony Tolliver.
He’s only the sixth player to have four of each of those categories this season, joining Draymond Green (twice), DeMarcus Cousins, Dwyane Wade, Giannis Anteokounmpo and Anthony Davis.
Cauley-Stein’s assists and blocks matched his career highs and his steals were a new best.
T.J. Warren led Phoenix (22-46) with 24 points and nine rebounds. Devin Booker had 19 points, but shot just 6 of 26. The Suns rested their best player, point guard Eric Bledsoe. Rookie Tyler Ulis started for Bledsoe and had 13 points and 13 assists.