PHOENIX — The oddball of the Phoenix Suns’ offseason haul, Luis Scola doesn’t fit the mold of the franchise’s new model that embraces youth and flash. This isn’t Goran Dragic dropping 20-plus in a quarter or the untapped potential of Michael Beasley.
This is the 32-year-old Argentinian who got amnestied by a Houston Rockets team that — much like Phoenix — was looking to rebuild. Joining a Suns team that’s younger and likely faster than the last few versions might add to the questions. But nobody in Phoenix is believing that Scola won’t fit in just fine.
“I think you’ll see the same player,” Scola said at Media Day of how he’ll fit in. “I’ll try to get better, but what I am is what I am. I’m 32 now. There’s not going to be a substantial change in the way I play.”
The Suns and head coach Alvin Gentry are just fine tinkering with how they can fit the system around the 6-foot-9, 245 pound power forward.
Will it work?
Here’s a look at what we know Scola can immediately bring to the table and what questions must be answered as Gentry takes a roster equipped with an array of skill sets and churns it into a team.
What we know
One of the most interesting comments at Media Day was Jared Dudley’s analysis of how Scola will fit into the Suns’ offense.
“The difference here (this year) is we have someone with Scola who is sort of like a Boris Diaw but is more aggressive offensively,” Dudley said. “So he can pass the ball. We’ve played pickup games, he is like Goran, he is like a point guard. I’m excited with him. I can definitely see us running the offense through him at times.”
The comparison is definitely a bold one, but it makes sense. Diaw’s best season in the NBA was playing in the post during Amar’e Stoudemire’s missed season due to his microfracture surgery, and Diaw shined in an offense also quite reliant on 3-point shooters.
Last year, both Diaw and Scola were in the top-10 of big men whose assists led to three-pointers, according to HoopData.com. They’re in the pretty good company of Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Blake Griffin, Josh Smith, LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee.
- Mid-range game
Although Scola’s back-to-the basket game is what he’s known for — he is, of course, the master of the old-man scoop shot as Mike Schmitz pointed out this summer — his mid-range game is actually ranked higher in comparison to other NBA power forwards. Last season, he shot 46.8 percent from 10-15 feet, top five among power forwards, and also hit 44 percent of his shots from 16-20 feet.
There’s no questioning Scola’s toughness on the court. For a team that traditionally has attempted to fight off the image that a high-scoring team might be soft, the infusion of Scola — not to mention guys like P.J. Tucker and Jermaine O’Neal — will help change that culture.
That influence in practice might be most beneficial to Marcin Gortat, who admitted after last season he was too reliant on Dream Shaking opponents for soft hook shots rather than going up strong to draw contact.
The questions to fitting in
- The post dilemma
In a game continually changing to fit the stretch power forward, Scola’s place with the Suns begs the question of whether he and Gortat can play at the same time. And that’s especially true for a Phoenix team that, in a way, set the trend for the stretch power forward.
After all, the use of pick-and-rolls between Steve Nash and Stoudemire were dependent on the other three players on the court drawing the defense away from the two-man game. That became ever-more-clear in the failed Shaquille O’Neal experiment.
While Scola was taking a more wait-and-see approach, Gortat said at Media Day he was confident Phoenix can make it work.
“I’m sure we can fit two guys under the basket,” Gortat said. “Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have been doing it the last few years so I’m sure me and Scola can do the same thing. Like I said, his basketball IQ is very high.”
So for a player who admittedly won’t be able to change his game a whole lot, the onus lies on Gentry and the other Phoenix players to feel out how Scola fits in.
“It’s not much of a change for me,” Scola said. “It’s going to be a change for the team as a whole.”
- Running with the youngins
Here’s the most obvious problem. Scola isn’t exactly known for his fullcourt game. He’s either slow afoot or awkwardly deceiving, but however you see it, Gentry isn’t worried about that hampering Scola’s ability to be effective even though the tempo is expected to be just as fast if not faster than the last few years.
“We want to play in the open court. We have players who are very good at that,” Gentry said. “I think one of the misnomers of that is Luis Scola is not a fullcourt player … he’s played that way in Argentina his whole life.”
- Defense and rebounding
During the London Olympics, one concerned raised was Scola’s poor rebounding against strong competition. From two seasons ago to last year, Scola saw a significant drop-off in his rebounds per 36 minutes, going from 9.0 to 7.5. That is worse than Channing Frye and Markieff Morris, who last year both averaged 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.
According to HoopData.com, Scola’s defensive rebounding rate from last season was 12.0, the same as Boris Diaw’s.
The good news? Scola had a better defensive rating than either Frye or Morris last season. His 245-pound frame and lack of explosiveness doesn’t make him nearly the shot blocker an NBA power forward should be, but his defensive rating bettered that of both Suns forwards.
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