Utilizing Luis Scola at the high post

Posted by on January 23rd, 5:36 pm

The Phoenix Suns have made a massive course correction here at the halfway point of the season. Alvin Gentry is sitting at home, and Lindsey Hunter is now in charge. In the coming weeks, the team is going to explore new options on offense and defense. The coaching staff will look back at the first half of the season to see what went wrong and what, if anything, went right. Over the second half of the year, I expect Phoenix to try new things on both ends of the floor to attempt to squeeze the most out of this roster.

In speaking to Paul Coro, Hunter gave no specifics about his intended rotations other than to say they would involve, “a lot of Luis Scola.” In this same conversation, Hunter stated he wanted to get the ball to the Suns’ big men in transition and and the post more often.  These comments lead me to believe that Phoenix will try running their offense through Luis Scola at the high post moving forward.

Scola has the most versatile offensive skill set of any player on Phoenix’s roster. According to HoopData.com, Luis is hitting 44% of his jumpers from 16-23 feet. He trails only Kevin Garnett and LaMarcus Aldridge in shots made from that range among power forwards. It’s worth noting that he’s assisted on more than 96% of those attempts. Scola is also a crafty scorer in the paint. He is currently 16th in the league in post-up scoring at 0.94 points per play. While he is not the most athletic player, Luis always finds a way – through shot fakes, pivots, or productive dribbles – to get his shot off in the lane. Aside from his ability to score in a variety of ways, Scola is also a great passer. He ranks seventh in the league among power forwards in assists per game, and of the six players ahead of him, only David Lee, Blake Griffin, and Paul Millsap have higher assist rates (# of possessions ending in an assist.) When given the opportunity, Scola has been able to find players cutting to the basket and hit open shooters spotting up on the perimeter. I believe the only reason he hasn’t been more productive this year is that he’s been underused up to this point. I expect that to change as Lindsey Hunter shakes things up.

Below, I’ve broken down some plays from the past few games which illustrate the different ways Luis can be effective. The first play is from Phoenix’s win in Chicago on January 12th.

As you can see, the Suns overloaded the left hand (as it appears in the chart) side of the floor, which gives Scola and Dragic plenty of room to operate on the right. Initiating the offense at the high post makes Phoenix more effective and aggressive than starting out three feet beyond the arc.

The Bulls defend the pick and roll well in this instance. Gibson keeps Dragic out of the paint and ushers him toward the corner where Chicago can trap him. Instead of rolling toward the hoop and Chicago’s help defenders, Scola stays put at the elbow. Once Robinson leaves Scola to trap in Dragic in the corner, Noah is supposed to rotate to Scola. But Joakim can’t leave the paint because Jermaine O’Neal has smartly flashed to the front of the hoop. Dragic passes over Robinson’s head easily, and Scola hits the shot. This play is an example of the Suns using two of their strengths – Dragic’s ability to penetrate and Scola’s ability to knock down long jumpers – to counter solid defense.

The next play is also from the Chicago game. It demonstrates how Scola’s passing and shooting ability can be used to get easy baskets for his teammates.

The double-high post is one of Phoenix’s most recognizable and most-used offensive sets. Often it starts, as it did in this instance, with an entry pass to Scola at the high post.

The Suns run a very basic “screen the screener” play. The Bulls assume that Shannon Brown is going to curl off his screen into the paint, just like Rip Hamilton does every day in practice. This misdirection catches Hamilton and Taj Gibson sleeping. Dragic sets a great screen on the much larger Gibson, freeing Gortat for an easy bucket.

This play doesn’t work if the initial entry pass at the high post goes to Gortat instead of Scola. Because Scola is such a consistent jump shooter, Noah is forced to guard him tightly. If it were Gortat at the high post, his defender could sag into the paint and clog up the action. This play shows how effective the Suns can be on offense with just a little bit of motion inside the paint. How many times this season have we seen the Suns get a layup with only two passes in a half court set? The answer: not nearly enough.

The third and final play, from the Thunder game, is another demonstration of Scola’s underrated and underused passing ability.

This play starts from the familiar double-high post set, but instead of initiating with a simple entry pass, the Suns run a pick and roll with Dragic and Gortat. All the motion in the middle of the floor forces Westbrook, Thabeet, and Ibaka to rotate and communicate even though the ball is still 20+ feet from the hoop.

Once Scola received the pass, he had several options. 1) Hit Gortat rolling toward the hoop. 2) Hit Brown on the wing. 3) Hand the ball off to Dragic with Westbrook still trailing behind. 4) Face up and create a shot for himself. The Thunder covered the first option by sliding Sefalosha in front of Gortat. That left Brown wide open to hit the trey.

Even if Scola didn’t dish out to Brown, however, the Suns were going to get a good look at the hoop. If Phoenix instead had a non-shooter in Brown’s position, then the handoff to Goran would have worked as Westbrook was loafing at the top of the key instead of recovering to Dragic. If Scola had decided to face the basket, he would have found Gortat with good post position on the smaller Sefalosha. Like I said, options. At this point, any play that gives Phoenix multiple scoring options is one the Suns should call more often.

Full disclaimer: I am not a professional or even amateur basketball coach. I’m just an observer with some X’s and O’s knowledge. The point of this piece isn’t to insinuate that the Suns would be better off listening to me or anything of the sort. The point is to illustrate that for as bad as the Suns’ offense has looked this year, it has had a few bright spots. Most of those bright spots have come with the ball in Luis Scola’s hands. He may not have been the most high-profile signing of the offseason, but for this team as it is currently assembled, he is the most important. He makes good decisions with the ball, can score in a variety of ways, and commands the attention of the defense. His versatility is something Phoenix can and should exploit to their advantage as the season wears on.

Ryan Weisert

Ryan Weisert is a staff writer for ValleyoftheSuns. You can also find him at his sports and pop culture blog Spectavius.com.

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Tags: Luis Scola · Offense · Phoenix Suns

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 anthony r Bass // Jan 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Ny suns

  • 2 Bill-in-Tokyo // Jan 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Hope for another loss. Helps get FO and Hunter fired. Gives Suns better draft pick.

  • 3 hawki // Jan 23, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Looking at all those diagrams reminded of when I played HS ball back in the Stone Age.
    Our coach was drawing a play on the blackboard & it got complicated…if this guy goes here you do this, if that guy goes there you do that…anyway, by the time he was done, the blackboard was just a big scribble of chalk marks….all at once the whole team burst out laughing….even the coach…..great times.

    @ Cam
    from previous article….thanks for the insight on Bennett & yeah Shabazz has the star power & game the Suns need.
    Don’t get to see Tony Mitchell much….N. Texas doesn’t get a lot of air time.

  • 4 Dean // Jan 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Bill-n-tokyo I’m w/ you, our best hope is a high draft pick. Do we have draft picks? I seem to remember Sarver selling them or giving them away.

  • 5 silver // Jan 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Great, GREAT article. Thanks. Very informative. Too often we get caught in ISOs we need to have a better offensive scheme so we can use our strengths and develop the skills of the young guys. It will have to be fairly simple installments but better than shooting contested 20 ft. jumpers.

  • 6 john // Jan 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    10 picks in the next 3 years, I believe.

  • 7 Scott // Jan 23, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I thought it was interesting that Sarver said all the coaches were interviewed and evaluated before selecting Hunter, the key question being what their plan was for running the team. I’m going to guess what Hunter said that got him separated from the crowd was that he had no plan and was just going to go by “feel.” (Which is what he says in the latest Suns.com video.)

    So perhaps this is the MO for Blanks, to go by feel …? It’s the same rationale that was offered (by Babby, as PR proxy for Blanks) for why Gentry was canned.

    Going by feel is an easy way to bypass analysis and get around arguments. Feelings can’t be judged or attacked, they just are. You either go with the feeling or you don’t.

    Anyway, that’s something that crossed my mind as I watched the latest video of Hunter on Suns.com, having listened to Sarver’s talk on KTAR earlier today.

  • 8 bill.thomas // Jan 23, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Sacto: 20 points in the paint after one quarter of play. Has it occurred to anyone that we may get a lot of blocks because we’re attacked so much in the paint?

    Citing raw stats out of context seems common on this board, but it does not always lead to the right conclusions.

  • 9 bill.thomas // Jan 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    At Sacto: We’re only in the 2nd qtr., the game is somewhat close, but Hunter has already used an 11 man rotation without even getting to Marshall and Garrett. I guess the strategy and style of play are going to be “free for all.”

  • 10 john // Jan 23, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    … And the Suns won the game… By putting it away late… Something they couldn’t do under Gentry…

    I know it’s just one game, but how long will it take to shut the boo birds up?

    Great games from Dragic, Scola, and Beasley. I thought after the first quarter that Gortat would be a bigger factor. His struggles are so intriguing to me. He should be so much better, but I think he holds himself back by being too passive on both ends.

  • 11 bk // Jan 23, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Yes, it makes sense totally. If the Gortat-Dragic core was a fail in the 1sf half of the season. The next safest bet is Scola-Dragic core as it was shown okay in the Houston last season. The danger is increased if you can use Scola passing skills and Beasley quickness in the low-post area.

  • 12 Scott // Jan 23, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Congrats to Hunter on his first win. :)

    He’s already spoiled my projection of 41 losses, but then again, he didn’t really dip into the bench to develop players like I thought he would. Maybe I misunderstood what “developing the young players” meant.

    Pro: Even though it appeared to be the same players we saw under Gentry, playing in pretty much the same positions and rotations, they appeared to be playing with more energy. Perhaps Hunter did a better job at practice, forcing players to keep at it till they got better, not just till the allotted time was up.

    Pro: It looked like Beasley’s game was helped by having him play at a higher energy level. I’m not surprised at this, and I hope Hunter is able to keep him playing with a high motor by demanding better defense from him.

    Pro: I like the idea of putting Scola on display, as he’s almost certain to be on the trading block this summer. I’d still hope to send him to the Celtics for Sullinger.

    Con: Hunter didn’t play Telfair and Dragic together to close the game. Maybe it wasn’t needed with Beasley playing a bit sharper, but if you put Marshall in (or Garrett, if he’s there) for a couple minutes in the fourth to give Telfair a breather, then you can play Telfair and Dragic together to close out the game.

    Telfair is shaping up as the team’s best 3 pt shooter. IMO, Dragic needs a capable defender, a dependable perimeter threat, and someone who can facilitate to help close games.

  • 13 silver // Jan 23, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    RYAN WEISERT

    Wizard!!!

    Loved our offense. Lots of movement, passing and using our guys right (especially Scola, Gortat, even Beas for the most part)

  • 14 Phoenix Suns 106, Sacramento Kings 96 -- Good thing the season starts today // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:02 am

    [...] control of the game. Scola also dished out four assists, a few coming on plays similar to those we broke down in a piece earlier today. If he continues to perform like this, Scola will become the de facto centerpiece of Phoenix’s [...]

  • 15 Los Angeles Lakers 91, Phoenix Suns 85 -- Black unis fall short // Feb 13, 2013 at 12:42 am

    [...] Scola and either Gortat or O’Neal were stationed at the high post. Some of the plays they ran are drawn up here. The double high post set spaced the court well and drew Dwight Howard away from the basket giving [...]

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