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Skal Labissiere adds insurance, potential: Countdown to Portland Trail Blazers training camp

Alex

Sept. 21, 2019

The 50th season in Portland Trail Blazers’ history is on the horizon.
After the most successful playoff run in nearly 20 years and an eventful, transaction-heavy summer, the 2019-20 season unofficially begins Sept. 30, when the Blazers gather at the Moda Center for media day.
Intrigue — and expectations — will be high after last season’s thrilling run to the Western Conference finals, especially considering the Blazers feature six new faces and three new starters as part of a roster overhaul that included the departure of seven players.
To catch you up to speed on what the Blazers will look like this season, we’re offering a daily snapshot of the roster as media day approaches. Next up: Skal Labissiere.
6-foot-11, 235-pound forward/center
Age: 23 (March 18, 1996)
Hometown: Port-au-Prine, Haiti
NBA experience: Entering fourth season
Contract status: Will make roughly $2.3 million in final season of rookie deal
2018-19 statistics: Averaged 3.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 8.0 minutes in 22 games (one start) for Sacramento and Portland.
Expected role this season: Backup big man
Outlook: The 2016 first-round draft pick seemed headed toward an expanded role this season before the Blazers signed free agent big man Pau Gasol late in the summer. But now, as he enters a contract year, Labissiere will have to fight for playing time behind a crowded big-man rotation that includes Hassan Whiteside, Zach Collins, Gasol and — eventually — Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers were impressed with Labissiere’s growth during June workouts and even though a minor shoulder injury prevented him from playing in summer league, the team seems enamored with his potential. After an encouraging first two seasons in the NBA, during which he averaged nearly nine points and five rebounds and started 40 games for Sacramento, the Kings drafted Marvin Bagley with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft. Bagley’s arrival, combined with a push to play Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufus at center, stalled Labissiere’s growth and made him expendable. He played in just 13 games for the Kings last season before they traded him to the Blazers for Caleb Swanigan. Leaving the notoriously dysfunctional Kings seemed to be liberating for Labissiere and, shortly after his arrival, Blazers’ coaches and players quietly praised his work ethic and talent behind the scenes. He justified the talk in the regular-season finale against his former team, recording 29 points and 15 rebounds, as the Blazers won despite resting all of their key rotation players. The organization hopes that spending the summer and a full season in their development program will help Labissiere regain his upward trajectory. At worst, he’s an enticing insurance policy if Whiteside or the 39-year-old Gasol suffer injuries and/or Collins continues to be handcuffed by foul trouble. At best, he’ll play well enough in training camp to force the coaches to play him.
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