With Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough both unrestricted free agents, there were plenty of questions around who would back up (or start in place of) Patrick Patterson at the Toronto Raptors power forward position. Well, question no longer. Wednesday night, amidst all the DeAndre Jordan emoji noise, Luis Scola announced his signing with Toronto with an old school smiley face. ASCII for life, my dude.
We the north... Here I come :)
— Luis Scola (@LScola4) July 9, 2015
The deal is reported at one year, $3-million which is fair given who the Raptors are getting. The 35-year-old Argentinian is one of the all-time greats on the world stage, reaching a level of success he's been hard pressed to repeat in the NBA. Nevertheless, Scola has carved out a niche as a tough-nosed player with a very high basketball IQ. He's an ironman, having missed just nine games in his nine-year career, and a solid anchor for a young Raptors frontcourt, a guy with knowledge to impart on Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Bismack Biyombo.
So what does he provide on the basketball court? His stats trailed off in Indiana, but a small resurgence in 2014-15 proves promising given his age.
Scola has been described as having a dominant "old man" game or, as I like to call it, a YMCA game. He won't beat you with athleticism, but he puts his body in the right place and wins battles with his smarts. As you can see in this video, most of his work comes as a result of solid footwork and a soft touch around the rim. For basketball geeks, it's actually quite remarkable to watch.
His shot chart reflects this style of play.
It also reveals another major facet of Scola's game: his 15-19 foot jumper from the wings. In a high pick and roll scenario, Scola should be able to provide much of what Amir Johnson did. He's a solid release valve for passes and keeps defenders honest with his ability to shoot or pass from the high post. Scola's presence should also create just enough spacing to allow Biyombo to do his work underneath the basket. Despite being a couple of 6'9" guys, expect those two to be a terror on the boards.
Advanced statistics reveal Scola had one of his best years for rebounding and defense last year, with career highs in defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage. His defensive box plus/minus was also the highest its been since 2008-09. The rebounding numbers could be imparted partially on the regression of Roy Hibbert behind him, but the main point is this - you usually don't see a 35-year-old big man not named Tim Duncan improve numbers at that age.
Playing devil's advocate, though: these numbers reflect how well Scola fit in Indiana's defensive schemes. Most of these relied on stout, on-the-ball defense. Dwane Casey's system relies more on athletes and over-helping, which may not be such a neat fit given Scola's lack of athleticism. Biyombo's freak of nature wingspan will help make up for this, but I would guess Scola's resurgence had as much to do with Indiana as it did with his own skill set.
So, what are the Toronto Raptors getting in Luis Scola? Given that he's likely replacing Tyler Hansbrough and Amir Johnson, it's nice that he does a bit of what made both of those players successful. He's got the traditional power forward abilities of Amir Johnson with a bit of Tyler Hansbrough's grit (read: ability to piss people off). He's a low-risk veteran with a clean bill of health and a strong motor. He's a player who can provide spacing in lineups with Biyombo. He's a guy with high basketball IQ who can pass on some knowledge to a painfully young frontcourt.
Much like the other Raptors signings this summer in DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph, he does what he does quietly and without glamour. I think, for that reason alone, he'll fit in well with the new-look Raptors.
Stats from NBA.com and basketball-reference.