On July 15th, the Toronto Raptors signed veteran power forward Luis Scola to a 1-year, $2.9 million dollar deal. The Argentinean, an international competition staple, is adamant that he is here to be more than a mentor, and insists that he still has millage left in his 35-year old legs. And you know what? I believe him!
Scola is coming from a situation in Indiana where the Pacers put him out to pasture. He had a career lows in nearly every major stat category, which can be largely attributed to a major reduction in playing time. The forward had anticipated one scenario when he left Houston (where he was averaging 30 minutes per game over the span of five years), and ended up in a completely different one (in his first season with the Pacers, Scola played just 17.1 minutes; in year two, 20.5). Admittedly it took him a while to adjust to his reduced role during the 2013-14 season, but he ended his Pacers career pulling numbers just slightly below his career averages (46.8 FG%, 71 FT%, 5.6 RB, 8.5 PTS, and 1.1 AST).
Upside is Imminent
As far as power forward corps go in the NBA, the Raptors hit rock bottom last year. The team as a whole averaged the lowest scoring in the league for the four-spot on the court, second to last to only a Charlotte team in the "score per 48 minutes" stat. Toronto choked out 14.1 to Charlotte’s 13.9. So adding Scola, what’s the worst that could happen? He’s a 6’9" forward who was drafted by the Spurs, 55th overall in 2002. The Spurs pride themselves on bringing in character players who are about the bigger picture. Although Scola never actually played for San Antonio, you can take it as a testament to the type of person he is. And I know we’re not in the business of having the most delightful team in the league, but in a sport where players are getting bigger, faster, stronger, and putting much more strain on their bodies, Scola has also proven himself to be a very durable option. He's missed 25 games since joining the Rockets in 2007 (where he played alongside Kyle Lowry for three years and change).
Know Your Role
Besides Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas, no other player is guaranteed anything, especially in the front court. There are a lot of question marks and opportunity for Scola to carve into some of Patrick Patterson’s minutes this season.
As of right now Patterson is still the presumed starter. He's superior in shooting the three (211-571 3FG compared to 10-60 3FG for Scola), and he also is far less careless with the ball in terms of turnovers (0.78 TOV average vs. Scola at 2.8 TOV career average), but it’s also probably a skewed number due to situational scenarios -- Patterson, for instance, gets the ball swung to him in the corner more often, while Scola finds himself in high-turnover traffic due to his style of play.
Deeper evaluation of Scola and Patterson shows that aside from total minutes and games played, these two PF options for the Raptors are eerily similar. Patterson’s true shooting percentage sits at 53.8%, while Scola’s is 53.5%; however, the Argentinian has sustained that over 298 more games. Although Scola doesn't shoot the three, he’s connected on 44.5 percent of shots ranging from 16 feet to the three-point line over the past eight seasons, which gives him the ability to stretch the offensive end of the floor.
The major upside for Scola comes with his defensive capabilities. While both Patterson and Scola hover around the same number of offensive win shares (19.3 for Scola and 11.5 for P-Patt) the variance in defensive win shares is significant. Scola hit 2.7 last year (22.3 career), compared to 1.7 (6.5 career) credited to Patterson. And let’s be honest, with the current Toronto roster, it’s not additional offence that the Raptors are looking for.
And despite his limited minutes, if you glance at the Top 40 rebounders in the league last year, you’ll find Scola (526 TOT RB). Comparables around Scola’s total include Mason Plumlee, Brook Lopez, and Al Horford, who all averaged more minutes.
Scola is smart, has played for a long time and competed against a lot different styles of play through his international and NBA career, making him a valuable asset.
Lost in Translation
But before we get too carried away, he’s not the second coming. This is a player who has competed professionally since he was 15-years old, and while he seemingly isn't slowing down yet, he should see limited minutes at times. Still, this year he was named FIBA Americas Championship MVP, led the tournament in points (21.2), was second in rebounds (10.1), and honoured as the tournament’s all-time leading scorer.
Scola does what he can with the time he is given in the NBA, and does it effectively, but at this point his ceiling is being capped at the same type of production he’s seen for the past seven years in the NBA, depending of course on allotted minutes from Coach Dwane Casey.
He’s a fringe double-double player (9.4 PTS, 6.5 REB, and 1.3 AST last season), with defensive and rebounding upside, and according to him he’s not done making his mark on the league quite yet.
"I don’t feel close to the end," Scola told The Toronto Suns Mike Ganter. "But I do know I'm closer to the end than the beginning. You would have to be stupid not to know that. But I don’t feel close to the end."