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.

Tags: Luis Luis ... Luuuuis

  • redmid17

    I smell a post comparing bench efficiency with Scola versus Hansbrough. Would be interesting

    • Frank Cook

      Tyler is doing well in Toronto, but it is a shame he never got to practice with Lois. Scola’s array of underhand moves would serve Tyler well.

    • Marcello

      That would be a little unfair to Tyler, Scola is playing on another level!!

      • Jack Wright

        because his basketball-playing skills are on another level, lol

    • Scott S

      Might just be something to work on…

  • 15points126seconds

    Can we have a post on Mahinmi? He was probably our best, most consistent bench player last year and seems to have really regressed this year, but I haven’t figured out what’s changed…
    With Watson-Granger-Scola-Mahinmi, we should- and this sounds weird to say- actually have one of the deepest benches in the league. And if Granger can play good minutes, not only will he take OJ and Solo’s minutes, but allow Lance or Hill to play some 2 w the reserves.

    • Scott S

      Great name.

    • achoo

      i think Ian has improved, though it’s marginal. He is still a solid backup big, who sometimes makes plays that confuse Buckner/Denari – “What a block by Hibbert! oh wait never mind that was Mahinmi”
      I am disappointed that he still sucks so bad on offense, but Pacers don’t really need him to be that good, especially if he plays most of his minutes alongside Scola or West. His D is still solid, and i think a bit improved, what more could you really as for $4m?

    • Jack Wright

      I haven’t noticed a regression. To me he seems like the same exact Mahinmi. I get frustrated when we throw it to him in the post, but that’s not his fault.

  • AMF1322

    As an argentinian, I couldn’t be happier of what Scola have done so far. I knew he was a perfect fit for the Pacers coming behind of D-West. What surprises me a little is how well those two can actually play together when Hibbs is in foul trouble. His decent passing, mid-range jump shot and a good amount of moves near the basket makes him a huge improve over THans, who I would like to have if he could hit jumpers. Plus, he’s smart, he’s a professional, he’s clutch (if it’s needed), he’s a leader, he’s almost everythig except stupidly athlethic, but has gigantic heart. And playing 16 to 22 minutes, you can be sure he’ll hustle in every single play.

    • achoo

      i would have liked THans too if he could hit jumpers. I would have even liked him if he would just know when NOT to shoot. But tyler is the exact same player he was at UNC. good enough to be the best college player in the nation, but does that even mean anything in the NBA?
      to me, all it meant was he felt he had a green light to dominate the ball. which was completely unjustified on a winning team. on the Raptors? yes. that is why his stats are up this year. but it’s not winning you any games.

  • achoo

    a little off topic, but Quinn Buckner, as much as i like his Pacer-fandom, is a sub-par commentator.
    I recall earlier this season, maybe 10-15 games in, he and Denari had an extended conversation (during play) about what language Scola and people from Argentina speak. Denari was not sure, so Buckner talked himself into the language being Portuguese. The more he talked the more confident he got until eventually he was saying “oh yeah I’ve played with lots of Argentinian guys, and they speak Portuguese, so that’s what Scola speaks.”
    Denari sounded skeptical but yielded to Buckner’s “expertise”

    maybe Scola can speak it, but come on Quinn, little kids are watching these games, don’t just make stuff up.

    • Jack Wright

      I remember that conversation, and that is absolutely not how it went. And you’re also wrong about Quinn Buckner being a sub-par commentator. He’s excellent. He brings a rare amount of basketball knowledge and “wisdom”—not the best word choice, or, maybe it is—with an equally likeable personality/character. It’s really hard to ask for a better commentator than Quinn.

      • achoo

        wait are you being sarcastic? i agree Buckner is likable, and he is obviously well versed being a long time veteran announcer. his one liners are funny (although sometimes overused) and his excitement towards the Pacers is contagious

        but watch league pass, tune into other teams’ crews as they play the Pacers and observe the contrast. yeah some are really shitty and make Buckner look like a genius, or “excellent,” but there’s no way he ranks in the top 15. even newcomers like David Wesley (who sounds like he’s so nervous he’s going to vomit) run circles around him in terms of 1) knowledge of the opponent 2) unbiased commentary 3) explanation of play designs. i’d put him around #18 or so overall.
        maybe it’s because of my affinity for Slick Leonard (i agree, it’s not fair to compare anybody to Slick) but i do ask for better because we’ve had better.

        now, if you were not being sarcastic, can you please remind me of how that conversation really went? i’d look it up myself but i’d rather hear it from you.

        • Jack Wright

          the conversation didn’t last long. 20 seconds or so I’d say? It was very short. And it was very clear that he was taking a stab at Scola’s language, not making a definitive declaration or anything.

          I’m not trying to rank the top commentators, but a few who I love in both radio and tv are slick, Quinn, boyle, clark Kellogg, reggie miller (I admit my bias here, but whatever.. I like who I like). And I wasn’t trying to be an ass above, btw.. I just like Quinn a lot and don’t understand why some people, including Pacers fans, don’t like him. Not sure at the top of my head who Wesley is. Some of the ESPN/national tv commentators are flat out idiots, others are ehhh. Some are decent maybe. Kerr’s overrated imo.

          Some of the things I like about Quinn besides his charisma and character: To me he is about as objective as possible when giving judgments on whether a ref made the right call, whether or not it’s in the Pacers’ favor. He also is unbiased in regards to the Pacer players specifically.. He’s never afraid to point out mistakes that PG makes, for instance. Also, you can tell that Quinn sorta hates it when PG celebrates too much. He also knows the importance of making the best basketball play in each situation, and is able to tell us what that play is. I respect Quinn’s point of view and I think it’s a valuable one to have around the organization and players. Or at least I’m not going to take it for granted, because there are plenty of terrible commentators out there with equally terrible perspectives/opinions on the many areas of conversation within basketball. I think Quinn understands the game of basketball very, very well.

          • Realist

            Regardless, Denari is excellent, and neither he or Quinn are huge homers, which is nice.

          • Realist

            Also, Reggie is god, obviously, but I think he sucks as a commentator, unfortunately.

          • achoo

            hey i agree, you gotta know your stuff to be a pro like Quinn, but other guys (Wesley does color for the Pelicans) are even better. “sub-par” was a bad phrase, maybe “not-elite” is better

        • djmcba

          I have to disagree as a fellow league pass user on Buckner. The Pacers commentators are certainly some of the least biased commentators out there (try and make it through a Bulls or Celtics game with their crews). I can’t say that they are nearly the best (top 10, but in the back half of the top ten) but they are solid. I will agree that they rarely bring much insight into the opposing team but that isn’t that uncommon.

          And I love Reggie, I’m sure we all do, but he is mediocre at best as a commentator. Best crew IMO is the old Van Gundy/Mark Jackson/other white dude group that was otherworldly for a few years.

  • Princ

    i doubt that scola is any upgrade,i admit watson is because g.hill is not a point guard but an average guard. (if you watched pacers-heat game you will see)

    • Jack Wright


    • Philip Tarrant

      Normally you don’t upgrade when you sub someone in from the bench, barring a Harden (w/OKC) or Manu situation. CJ isn’t really an upgrade from GHill, just a player with a different skill set. Our bench PPG, despite the overall improvement, is still bottom ten in the league, but I feel like that’s more due to our pace of play and the heavy minutes our starters get than damning evidence that our bench isn’t good.

    • Jahli Suwaghaman

      George Hill is what he is. He’s a middling distributor, a moderate scorer, and an excellent defender. He fits right into our system. Hill does a great job funneling all but the quickest guards in the league into our meat-grinder of a defense. Yes, he has a lot of trouble with the really fast guards like Westbrook, Irving, Wall, or Rose. No, he’s not average, he’s quite good but, don’t look for him to be what he’s not. He’s not Steve Nash, he’s not Chris Paul. He’s George Hill and I love rooting for the guy.

  • Carlos Bertoglio

    Don’t forget this guy. He’s Argentinian too

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  • Gary Bo

    Love me some Scola!!!!!

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