Luis Scola: The Bench Savior from Argentina

luis scola

Only a few Argentines have made it to the NBA. Of course there’s Manu Ginobili, the sharp-shooting star who has helped propel the Spurs to multiple titles. Then there are Andres Nocioni, who spent a few years with the Bulls, Kings and 76ers before heading overseas, and Fabricio Oberto, who played a few years in San Antonio, Washington and Portland. Like Nocioni, Oberto no longer has a job in the NBA and is (attempting) a professional career elsewhere.

That is nearly the end of the list.

The only other Argentine to make waves in the NBA is Luis Scola, the straight-laced hustler who is continuing to impress everyone he needs to impress — most notably Larry Bird. It turns out that Indiana’s trade for Scola was awhile in the making. Bird had been trying to court him to Indianapolis for over a year. Now that we’ve seen Scola in Blue & Gold, it is easy to see why Mr. Legend was dazzled.

Pacers Scoring Per-36 Minutes (2013-14)
Player Pts eFG%
Paul George 24.2 55.2%
Luis Scola 16.5 51.6%
David West 15.4 46.8%
Roy Hibbert 15.2 49.1%
George Hill 12.6 47.8%
Lance Stephenson 12.6 51.5%
C.J. Watson 11.7 46.6%
Orlando Johnson 9.7 41.3%
Ian Mahinmi 6.1 35.7%
Solomon Hill 6.0 41.7%

Twenty-two games. That’s how long Scola has been playing for Indiana, yet it feels as if he’s been one of the gang for quite some time. Maybe it’s his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers in a David West-esque style. Maybe it is because he has quickly learned his place on pick-and-roll schemes and does such a good job of mixing up his potent pick-and-pop game with pump fakes that lead to drives to the rim. Or maybe it is the fact that he’ll out-hustle just about anyone on the floor. I know I’ll never forget the moment I first loved Scola as a Pacer: November 6, in the first contest Indy would have against Chicago, when the 33-year-old was far outside the 3-point line and suddenly stole the ball to create a one-man fast break that would make Lance Stephenson proud.

He may not lead the league in bench scoring or become Sixth Man of the Year, but he’s doing everything he should be, and could be, when coming in to relieve the starters on one of the most talented Pacers’ teams of all time.

There are more than mere anecdotes to back this up, too. Scola’s numbers have been excellent.

In 22 games for Indy, he may be averaging just 8.3 points per game, but his 16.0 points per-36 minutes are the second highest on the team (behind only Paul George’s 24.2). So not only is Indiana’s offense not falling off numerically when West heads to the bench, it is incrementally better. (West is scoring 15.4 points per-36).

And when West rests, Indiana doesn’t drop off in terms of efficiency either. Scola is taking 7.0 shots per game and shooting over 51.6% — and average hasn’t been built through a few good games. There have only been six games in which Scola shot below 50%, and he has been held scoreless just once (when he went 0-4 from the field in Indiana’s 106-98 win over Philadelphia). So while he is averaging fewer points per-36 minutes than he has since his second season in 2008-09, his shooting percentage is also higher than it has been since then, so the trade off has been well worth it for the Pacers.

His contributions haven’t come only on offense, however. Scola is also averaging more rebounds per-36 than he has in years and his defensive rating has improved from a career average of 105 to 96. That is of course the product of playing on a historically elite defensive squad, but it also shows that he has been able to learn and fit into Frank Vogel’s system — something that was the biggest question mark for the new acquisition when he joined the team this summer. The eye test tells the same story; Luis Scola will never be a prime KG, but he generally understands where to be and has quickly learned how to prioritize the principles that Vogel preaches.

It’s early, but Luis Scola has been an important part of Indiana’s success using his experience and leadership on the floor to propel the second unit of a team that isn’t used to having bench scoring. Together with C.J. Watson, he has been the key upgrade that has taken the Pacers from having one of the worst reserve units in the league last year to one that can compete nightly and preserve the advantage that the starters have over almost every team in the NBA.

He may not have the rings that Manu has, but Indiana’s Argentine has enough to say that he is one of the best to ever come from a country not known for producing NBA-caliber talent.

Oh, and that ring?

Yeah, it may come soon.

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