Luis Scola: A misspent veteran bargain

Luis Scola’s first season in the desert didn’t go the way he or the Phoenix Suns had hoped. Throughout the year, Luis did everything he was asked and more, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Suns competitive. The team stumbled to one of the worst records in franchise history. Scola had his lowest scoring season in four years. However, despite fluctuating minutes and a coaching change, Scola provided veteran leadership, rebounding and paint scoring to a team sorely in need of all those things. His many contributions failed to help Phoenix in the win column though. Knowing the type of competitor that Scola is, he is probably the person most disappointed with his own performance this season. But he has absolutely nothing to be upset about. He gave this team everything he had. The Suns’ season was doomed from the start.

Scola landed in Phoenix seemingly out of nowhere last summer. In mid-July, the Suns were firmly in rebuilding mode, just a few days away from signing Goran Dragic to replace Steve Nash. The Houston Rockets were looking to make room on their roster and salary cap to steal Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin from Chicago and New York respectively. The Rockets, for whom Scola had played five years, were not unhappy with his production. They just needed to go in a new direction as a franchise and thus, Scola was amnestied. Phoenix’s winning bid was the coup which sparked a summer of optimism in the desert. Scola was only one season removed from averaging 18 and 8. He was set to star for Argentina in London at the Summer Olympics. By all appearances, the Suns had miraculously found a frontcourt partner for Marcin Gortat and solidified their power forward spot. When Dragic signed on a few days later, everything was looking great in the Valley of the Sun.

But all that optimism was misplaced. Aside from Scola and Dragic, none of the new faces really panned out, and the Suns struggled mightily all season. Constant lineup shuffles and a mid-season coaching change ensured the Suns never really developed any chemistry. The team’s poor performance and failure to improve as the season went along led to questions of toughness up and down the roster. When asked, interim head coach Lindsey Hunter was quick to identify Scola, along with P.J. Tucker and Goran Dragic, as the players he’d “climb in a foxhole” with. Scola, being the oldest and most experienced of that group, did his best to be a leader on this team, but his voice failed to rise above the din of all the on and off-court distractions facing the Suns during their miserable year. Despite his obvious frustration, Scola never mailed in a single game and was a key part of the Suns’ offense.

Scola was the Phoenix’s second most reliable scorer. His best weapon was the pick and pop jumper from the free-throw line extended area. Scola hit 45% of the shots he took from 16-23 feet. Among power forwards, only LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki did more damage from that range. He served as a solid partner for Goran Dragic in the pick and roll. Because Scola preferred to pop instead of roll, Dragic had more space in the lane to operate and get to the hoop. The Suns’ offense was often most effective this year when Scola operated at the high post.

Luis’ other weapon was his diverse set of crafty “old man” post moves. As compared to other NBA power forwards, Scola is not athletic by any means. But that didn’t stop him from being a potent scorer when he caught the ball in the paint. Scola has absolutely incredible footwork which allows him to get defenders off balance and find narrow windows to get his shot off. With Marcin Gortat regressing and the Morris twins failing to meet expectations, Scola was really the only post scorer the Suns had this year.

On the down side, Scola did post the worst field goal percentage of his career this season. Part of this is likely due to Scola being a year older and a bit slower, but part is also due to fewer opportunities. Normally when a player ages, their field attempts get further away from the basket, and they stop going to the rim as much. This was not the case with Scola. His average attempts at the rim did drop from 3.6 to 3.2 per game, but his attempts from 16-23 feet stayed the same. Scola simply got fewer shot attempts in the paint this year and as a result, he shot a lower a percentage. The Suns never really figured out their offense this season. So while there were games when Scola got 15+ shots and a chance to establish himself in the paint, there were others where the team was so perimeter oriented that he never got a chance to really contribute. With a more defined role and some rotation stability, there’s every reason to think Scola could shoot 50% from the field again.

Defensively, Scola was this season what he’s always been: willing, smart, tough, and painfully slow. Hunter’s endorsement I mentioned earlier would not have been given if Scola was not a committed defender. Unfortunately for the Suns, commitment does not always translate into results. In the paint, Scola is a decent defender who doesn’t often get abused, even when guarding larger players. But on the perimeter, Scola was disappointing. Against stretch 4’s, Scola, like most of his teammates, was very slow to close out. This allowed talented shooters to get open looks which was the downfall of the Suns’ defense all year. Scola is not going to improve as a defender at the age of 33. But if he keeps his desire and commitment, he could be useful in the right defensive system.

So what does the future hold for Luis Scola? His production has dropped off two years in a row which would seem to indicate that he is slowing down. But there are some facts which seem to contradict that way of thinking and suggest an alternative explanation.

What if Scola simply does not perform well in tumultuous situations? As I said previously, he averaged 18 points and eight rebounds just two years ago in Houston. That was also the last year the Rockets had any sort of stability on their roster. Since then, Houston has had more turnover than Phoenix, and thus, Luis has basically played with a brand new set of teammates each of the last two seasons. His production has slipped in those years (though his PER did rise slightly with the Suns.) But I don’t believe he has started an irreversible decline as a player. Look at his production with Argentina at the 2012 Olympics. On a team filled NBA players including future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobli, Scola was incredibly productive. He carried the Argentines through pool play and put them in position to win a medal (though they eventually fell short, losing to Russia in the bronze medal game.) Playing alongside guys he’s played with for nearly a decade, Scola was viable and efficient, not old and declining.

Another fact that might indicate he has something left in the tank is his end of season production. Over the last six games of the year, Scola averaged 18.8 points and 11.3 rebounds. Unfortunately, Scola’s trade value is somewhat depressed, like most of the Suns’ roster. The Suns’ biggest failure this year is not their record, but the amount they allowed assets like Scola to depreciate this season. Whether or not he’ll be moved this offseason remains to be seen. What is clear is that he can still provide value to this team if surrounded by some modicum of stability. Stability, however, may not be in the cards. Next season may be another year in the lottery for this franchise which is still in the infancy of rebuilding, and I’m not sure a rebuilding team is the right place for Scola.

Tags: Luis Scola Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Analysis

  • Tim in BC

    I have always liked Luis Scola and he is a hard working player who has a sense of toughness on the court and craftiness around the basket. I think he has a strong work ethic and wanted to help the Suns although with their roster they were doomed even with quality players like him and Dragic. I hope that the Suns keep Scola because of he is a skilled player with some leadership qualities and seems like a nice guy as well.

  • Scott

    I’m not sure why Scola’s trade value should be surpressed, when he’s going for below market value already due to amnesty.

    Seems to me that if anyone is looking for a crafty veteran midrange scorer with some heft and distributing skills … and they need a guy for just 2 years … Scola is nicely priced.

    I think based on age, temperament, and contract length, Scola should go to Boston. He’s got a higher PER than either Green or Bass, and he can also play some C.

  • Ty-Sun

    Looking back at the Suns’ starting lineup for game 1 – Dragic, Dudley, Beasley, Scola & Gortat – I think this season started off badly both because the FO made a bad decision in trying to make Beasley the “go-to” guy in the offense and Gentry being a little too inflexible with his lineups. Dudley is a good, solid 3 who played well but not great at the 2 when he was playing with Nash at the point and Hill at the 3. But he was never a natural 2 and playing him there with Dragic and Beasley was a poor decision.

    And the Suns tried to force the offense through Beasley too long into the season. I don’t know if Gentry actually drank the kool-aid or was just following orders.

    And Dragic and Gortat obviously had no chemistry early on. I wonder if that also might not have been due to the focus on trying to give the spotlight to Beasley.

    And finally I get to Scola. He’s a little long in the tooth but he and Dragic played well together in Houston but, at least in the beginning of the season, the Suns seemed to think of him as the third or even fourth option behind Beasley, Gortat and Dragic. And then they kept changing the lineups and rotations. No one knew WTF was going on from week to week and there was virtually no consistency under Gentry or Hunter.

    If the Suns can get good trade value for Scola, I’m okay with trading him but if not I think he would be a good veteran asset worth keeping.

  • DBreezy

    The guys that come to mind when I think of Scola are Pau Gasol and fellow Argentine teammate Manu Ginobili. All of them are big time NBA and Olympic competitors with several World and NBA championships between them.

    Pau and Manu have more NBA playoff mileage on them in addition to the international stuff and imo it’s given us a glimpse into what’s likely to happen to Scola at some point in terms of their bodies basically just breaking down. That pretty much has already happened to Nocioni and Delfino often seems older than he is as well.

    Now if you’re on a playoff team like many of these guys are or have been, it’s often worth the stretch to keep these guys around as what they can give you in key moments of your season typically outweighs what you can get for moving them. The Suns aren’t in that position though and Scola hasn’t begun to breakdown yet so I think they should really look hard and realistically for what they can get for him at this point in his career.

    The good news is that this offseason, the Suns management really hasn’t married itself to anybody on the roster outside of Dragic. So hopefully they’re really going to look at everything. Also talking about this and the NBA combine this week, will at least temporarily distract our attention from the head coaching search that’s probably going to take awhile.

  • Scott

    DX has a scouting video up now for SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP).

    He looks to me like a guy who would have a decent career as a 6th man. IMO, there are a few of those in this draft.

  • KayGee19

    I agree about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that the suns should take a close look at him, along with Allen Crabbe who I think are both sleepers in this draft…but now that the suns have a low second pick (Thx Lakers) I cant see them landing any of those players! Their stock will rise after the draft combine this thurs & fri, Watch!

  • bill.thomas

    If we pick Pope we’ll have to upgrade our announcing team. Or at least, advanced elocution lessons will need to be given.

  • DBreezy

    The change continues. Coro says that a lot of Blanks’ office and scouting staff has been let go to make way for McD’s and that Treloar is only guaranteed to stay on through this draft. Big Daddy, Shumate and Bubba Burrage stay. Watch your iced hot buns Kendall.

  • john

    Get rid of Kendall. Draft Burke (if he’s available). If Burke is gone, I’d happily “settle” for Oladipo.

  • DBreezy

    Wiggins has given a verbal commitment to Kansas. From a one and done NBA standpoint, I would have preferred it if he had chosen Kentucky or UNC. Outside of Manning and Pierce, it just seems like the big time prospects that go to KU don’t blow up at the NBA level.

  • Scott

    While I know most folks are looking at Wiggins, I’m speculating on Jabari Parker. He has a Grant Hill type air about him, and I’m wondering if he has that kind of game as well.

  • DBreezy

    I think the Suns may be bad enough to have a chance at either Scott, and I want that both to do well enough for that choice to be a tough one. The thing that scares me the most is that they might not be one and done guys. Kyrie and Austin Rivers aside, Duke isn’t really a place that people go planning to be one and done, so it’s a concern from an NBA standpoint. Also, Wiggins seems like a different kind of person than the typical recruit. He likes being a teenager, doesn’t love the spotlight, and he just might like to spend more than one year in school because of it.

  • john


    I seem to remember some guy named Chamberlain who played a Kansas a while back and had a decent NBA career. :)

    As for Parker vs Wiggins – I’m more intrigued by Parker at this point, but time will tell who the better prospect truly is. Both show a ton of promise, but ultimately that harvest could turn out to be a bunch of sour grapes (I’m looking at you, Michael Beasley).

  • foreveris2long

    I like McD, get rid of the dead weight now. I am excited to see how Dieng performs in the combine. If he continues to impress the Suns need to find a way to secure him or Noel. There are plenty of wings in the draft and I am not convinced any of them have distinguished themselves. Get me Noel/Dieng and Franklin and I am dancing on a roof top. I could live with Oladipo just not that high on him.

    Then again what the Warriors do with curry in letting him play the 2, should give the Suns enough reason to look long and hard at Burke should he fall to them.

    See the Suns might consider B. Shaw along with others as a coach. That would not be a bad move.

  • Scott

    @john -

    Yeah, but that was when Kansas was still a territory … ;)

    @forever -

    Out of the various assistant types mentioned, I would put Shaw as my favorite.

    @DBreezy -

    Well, the Suns get 2 first round picks in the next two years (after this one), so it’s possible one of the picks will be high.

    If Parker doesn’t come out after his first year, I feel pretty certain he’ll be out the following year.

    However, if the Suns are still deep in the lottery by that late date, and are still rebuilding … ai yi yi. That probably means McD is a bust, which I’m hoping is not the case.

    If McD drafts Gobert, Zeller, or Plumlee at #4, he better be trading the pick! ;)

  • bill.thomas

    @Scott: Do you mean the Suns have 2-1st rounders in each of the next 2 years?

  • bill.thomas

    Everybody on BSOTS loves Oladipo. Maybe he has bought the website ????

  • Scott

    @bill. -

    The Suns do have 2 first round picks coming each year in 2013, 2014, and 2015, if it all pans out right. Kudos to the FO for that, though they were probably saving those picks to include on trading Dragic, Scola, and Gortat away … ;)

    This year the Suns have their own pick plus the regrettably late pick from the Lakers (Heat).

    Next year – 2014 – the Suns will have their own pick plus very likely the pick from Minnesota (top-13 protected). If the Timberwolves trip over their paws yet again (!) and stumble into the higher lottery, then the pick rolls over to the next year, where it is top-12 protected.

    In the year 2015 … the Suns will have their own pick plus the 2nd one from the Lakers (top-5 protected). And, as mentioned above, the Minnesota pick might roll over if it doesn’t get used in 2014.

    Hopefully by 2015 the Suns are looking to draft the players they need to finish off their rebuild.

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