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Kings’ Labissiere searches for consistency and a ‘hit-first mentality’ despite his size

Sacramento Kings forward Skal Labissiere (7) shoots a basket against the Utah Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko (8) during their game at Golden 1 Center on Saturday, March 3, 2018.
Sacramento Kings forward Skal Labissiere (7) shoots a basket against the Utah Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko (8) during their game at Golden 1 Center on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The Sacramento Bee

There were times last season Skal Labissiere looked poised for big things in the NBA, including a career-high 32 points at Phoenix last March, grabbing 15 rebounds last January against Charlotte and dishing out eight assists last March at Golden State.

The reality was he still had quite a bit to learn. So when watching Labissiere play this season, it’s best not to get wrapped up in just scoring — rather, whether he’s picking up the nuances of the game.

“Last year I was just out there sometimes, just trying to figure out what’s what,” Labissiere said of his rookie season. “I think this year I’m learning, around the league, other bigs more.”

Labissiere had 12 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in Sacramento’s 98-91 loss to the Utah Jazz Saturday night at Golden 1 Center.

He continues to make strides since missing nine games with a shoulder injury, figuring out the details of the game more and more. Labissiere had to play some center, not his natural position, against the Jazz. That meant dealing with Utah’s physically imposing center, Rudy Gobert.

The defensive growth is a must, as it was something that kept Labissiere off the court at times early in the season.

“I thought (Labissiere) played through contact a couple times and that’s some stuff he’s been working on,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “I thought he was effective (at center). I tried to keep him away from Gobert most of the time, but that’s not a terrible thing either because he can pick-and-pop and take guys on the outside.”

Labissiere is listed at 6-foot-11, 225 pounds, but his wiry frame can be problematic against players like Gobert, or strong players at power forward.

With the Kings giving more minutes to their young players, Labissiere is getting plenty of opportunities to show he can stand up to the strength of opponents. Labissiere said he’s learned he has to “stay ready” for contact.

“Stay lower than the other big guys and be ready to embrace it because guys are coming at me, because they look at my size and are just going to to try to go at me,” Labissiere said. “I have to work on being there and having a hit-first mentality.”

And Labissiere also needs to prove he can impact games when he’s not scoring.

“Just rebound, block shots — all the little things — whether my shots (are) falling or not,” Labissiere said. “I think one thing I can control is my effort. Just trying to do the little things. That’s one thing coach (Jason) March and I talked about. I try to do that every night.”

Saturday was the first time Labissiere had more than five rebounds in six games since returning from his injury.

Labissiere does have eight blocks in the six games since his return, registering at least one in five of those games.

“Just seeing things earlier, I think that’s been the biggest thing for me,” Labissiere said. “Watching and seeing the weakside with my man, trying to see where mistakes are going to happen and drives are going to happen and just be ready to go, ready to help. That’s one of the things I watched when I was out, things I can do better.”

Donovan Mitchell led Utah (33-30) with 27 points and five assists. Gobert had 16 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Utah has won 14 of 16 to remain in playoff contention in the Western Conference.

The Kings have dropped 10 of 13. De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento with 17 points and three assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 15 points.

The Kings are one of three teams with a 19-44 record. Only Phoenix (19-45) and Memphis (18-44) have worse records.

The Kings guard shares thoughts after Saturday's loss at G1C.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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