Luis Scola became a victim of a youth movement in Houston as the veteran big man was amnestied by the club after the Rockets brought in two new forwards via the NBA Draft. However, Houston's loss is Phoenix's gain as the Suns placed the winning claim and scored Scola on the cheap.
Scola may have had a down season last year, but he's still a very skilled and versatile offensive player and he's going to be a big part of the Suns' new offense. To get a better idea of how he might be used when the games start to count, I took a look at some film from last year. All screen-caps are courtesy of MySynergySports.com.
Well, maybe not. The Rockets' offense was a lot different than the Suns' last season. Not only did they use the pick-and-roll less than the Suns did, they also ran the play a lot differently. The Rockets did not have any roll men of the same caliber as Marcin Gortat, but they did have a lot of guys that liked to take the mid-range jumper. That meant more often than not, when Houston bigs set screens, they spotted up for the pick-and-pop rather than rolling to the basket.
Scola was a big part of that, as he was involved in nearly half of Houston's pick-and-rolls. Here's an example of a typical Scola pick-and-pop play.
Scola sets the screen on Goran Dragic's man near the top of the key here.
The New Orleans defenders jump out on Dragic and double him hard. Scola recognizes his man left him to trap Dragic, and rolls to an open spot on the floor just inside the arc.
Dragic finds Scola wide open and the big man puts up a jumper from 18 feet out before the defense can recover.
The pick-and-pop was a staple of the Houston offense. Both Kyle Lowry and Dragic are aggressive when coming off screens and are looking to take it to the hole. That, coupled with Houston's lack of quality roll men, meant defenses looked to trap the ball-handler a lot. The result was plenty of pick-and-pops, and Suns fans should expect to see some of that in Phoenix as well.
However, Scola didn't pop every single time. Here's an example of a play where he does roll to the basket.
Again, Scola sets the screen on Dragic's man at the top of the key. However, Dragic is going to handle the screen a bit differently than Steve Nash did with the Suns last year, and that in turn changes how the roll man reacts.
Whereas Nash slow plays it and takes what the defense gives him, Dragic looks to put the pressure on the defense by attacking off the screen. In this play, Dragic attacks the hedge, gets around it and drives toward the basket. Instead of rolling hard right away as Gortat did with Nash, Scola follows behind Dragic with his roll.
Dragic continues to attack and gets a foot in the paint, but the defense collapses on him. Instead of forcing up a tough shot, Dragic dumps the ball down to the rolling Scola, whose defender (Dirk Nowitzki) was left behind after trying to hedge on Dragic.
Scola receives the ball and finishes with a flip shot/ floater over the defense.
This is a bit different than the Nash pick-and-roll where the roll man is the first option and Nash is looking to set up that pocket pass to the hard-rolling big man.
Scola was a consistently above-average rebounder in each of his first four seasons, but took a sharp decline last year. Whether that was due to age or just a bad year, we don't know yet. But even though he played well in the Olympics, he still averaged less than five rebounds per game. I'm thinking it may not have been a fluke.
However, his offensive rebounding didn't take much of a hit, and that's an area he should still be able to help the Suns.
This play begins with a side pick-and-roll with Dragic and Scola out on the right wing.
Scola rolls off the screen to the top of the key for the pick-and-pop like he usually does, but Scola's man is laying off of him to stop the Dragic penetration. Dragic sees this and pulls up for the jump shot. With nobody on him, Scola decides to crash the offensive glass.
Nobody boxes him out and he runs untouched to the front of the rim.Scola snags the board and puts it right back up for two points.
Scola doesn't leave the floor, nor is he blessed with long arms. However, he's savvy and knows how to position himself for rebounds, and is good at tipping the ball to himself. When he does secure the board, he's pretty good at putting it back up, scoring 1.13 points per possession and shooting 60.3 percent.
Scola has a reputation as one of the better post players in the game, and that reputation is well earned. The Suns have not had anyone as technically skilled as him in the post in a long time. While we haven't seen him in the post all that much in the preseason so far, that will likely change when the games start to count. Here's an example of what we can expect from him.
In this play Scola is posting up his man on the left block. After Courtney Lee makes the post entry pass he is going to clear out of the corner so that his man can't double down on Scola easily.
Scola goes to work on Faried, backing him down a step with one dribble before making his move. Arron Afflalo leaves Lee but doesn't commit to the hard double, basically putting himself in no-man's-land.
After the dribble, Scola turns over his left shoulder and gets Faried up in the air.
Faried leaves his feet, but Scola doesn't, and steps through for the finish. The result is a beautiful up-and-under move and two points for Houston.
This is just an example of one post move that Scola has in his arsenal. He is as crafty as they come, with great footwork and body control. He often uses a series of moves to get off his shot, and has a wide array of shots at his disposal including hooks, flips and scoops.
This is an area where we've already seen Scola used a great deal in Phoenix, particularly when he is in the game with one of the back-up point guards. Scola is a good shooter from the high post and also an excellent passer.
He's a perfect fit for the new corner offense Alvin Gentry is implementing this year.
We can also expect to see some high-low play between Scola and Marcin Gortat out of the corner sets.
Luis Scola is a very versatile offensive player with a lot of skills. He is going to allow the Suns to do a lot of things on offense that they haven't been able to do in recent years. Scola can run both the pick-and-roll and the pick-and-pop, can operate out of the high and low post, and can score off of offensive rebounds. He's also an effective finisher in transition.
Even better, he has great chemistry with Goran Dragic. The two have great chemistry and know how to play off of each other well.
Scola doesn't have 3-point range like Channing Frye did, but he can shoot out to about 20 feet an should still be able to provide some of the floor spacing Frye did for the Gortat pick-and-roll.
Scola has some skills. The question now is, how much have those skills declined? He had the worst season of his career last year at age 31 and has only gotten a year older. How much of the decline is age, and how much was just a bad season? We will find out soon, and the answer could mean the difference between a dangerous, versatile offense and an ineffective one.
Sheridanhoops.com is running a season preview series of guest columns that will run throughout October. The theme of the series is Positivity - which runs rampant throughout the league before the real games start in November.
This time of year, (almost) every team feels like they can make the playoffs. For the contenders, it's merely an assumption. For the pretenders, it's "if this breaks right and that breaks right".
The Suns are in the latter group. So, when I wrote the guest column I focused on what national readers might not know about the team that no longer boasts
"He Who Must Not Be--"... the Two Time MVP of the National Basketball Association: PG Steve Nash.
Amid all the gloom and doom, there IS reason for optimism. I've written about many of them already, but one reason that hasn't been touched on much yet is:
2. The best players can play the best minutes
One of the most difficult aspects of coach Alvin Gentry's job the last two seasons was managing the minutes of his aging stars.
Even on a healthy night, Suns fans knew that whenever Nash had to play more than 24 of the first 40 minutes (to the 8-minute mark of the final period), we were asking for trouble. Nash had a kitchen timer for a body clock. Once that 30-minute mark went off (though sometimes it was set for 24 or 28 minutes), he was done. His passes weren't as crisp, his decision-making off, his shots short. Heaven forbid that timer went off with 2-4 minutes remaining.
Hit the link to see my "national" view on 4 other reasons for optimism.
Was I optimistic enough? I didn't want to overdo it, but then again I am excited so it's hard not to.
Did I hit on the real top 5 reasons for optimism this season? What are YOUR top 5 reasons?
Check out the posts by other team writers. It's always interesting to see what the pretenders have to say about their team's chances.
And, check out Sheridanhoops.com on a regular basis. Great content over there!
Sometimes it's not about the size of the man in the fight, it's about the size of the fight in the man. Phoenix's bigs aren't the biggest, but if they can utilize their individual skills efficiently they may be able to capitalize on mismatches to slay the behemoths of the National Basketball Association.
The compiled list is an impressive array of the big men that populate the Western Conference. The names in bold are players that (for the most part) we can agree are comparable to, if not better than, either of the starters in the Suns' frontcourt.
Denver: McGee, Mozgov, Koufos, Faried, Gallinari
Memphis: M. Gasol, Speights, Randolph
Oklahoma City: Perkins, Ibaka, Collison
Utah: Kanter, Jefferson, Favors, Millsap
LA Clippers: Jordan, Turiaf, Griffin, Odom
Dallas: Kaman, Nowitzki, Brand
LA Lakers: Howard, P. Gasol, Jamison
Spurs: Duncan, Splitter, K. Leonard
Minnesota (Pekovic, Love, Kirilenko), Portland (M. Leonard, Aldridge), Golden St. (Bogut, Lee), Sacramento (Cousins), Houston (Asik), New Orleans (Anderson, Lopez, Davis)
Below are the four horsemen of the apocalypse (yes, I just went there) that will act as the Suns' unholy champions in their conquest of the NBA this year.
Left to right: Jermaine O'Neal, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Luis Scola
Pestilence, War, Famine, Death
Marcin Gortat (War)
He may not like to drop the hammer anymore, but I refuse to dignify the newly suggested effete epithet for fear of emasculating his already tenuous claim to toughness. If the pride of Poland really wants to incorporate shape-shifting into his new persona he could at least pick an animal with a more savage reputation such as a bandersnatch. I'm down with War Machine to coincide with the theme of this post.
Gortat is not the most physically imposing center in the Western Conference. He doesn't eat up space like Marc Gasol. He doesn't deter players from attacking the lane or implant seeds of apprehension or hesitation from fear of a weakside block or a ribcage crushing foul. In fact, there will be few times that Marcin has a size advantage over his adversaries. I'm not trying to imply that Gortat is small or incapable, just that he's got his work cut out for him.
Marcin is the head of the spear for the Suns. His ability to defend the post, rebound and score efficiently is imperative to the team's success. After Dragic, he (probably) enters the season as the second most pivotal player to the Suns' success. He's kind of a big deal. Only three players in the NBA averaged at least 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season. One of them was Gortat with 15.4, 10.0 and 1.5. The other two were Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. Those three players also finished in the top six in the league in FG%, with Gortat 6th at .555. Yet Gortat remains undervalued and relatively unknown. Maybe it's because the huddled masses draw a preposterous corollary between alley-oops/highlight reel dunks and overall ability as a big. Gortat doesn't play above the rim, but he kicks ass below it.
Gortat is a well-rounded player, but he is not without weaknesses. He has earned his reputation as a finesse player on the offensive end. Sometimes it is infuriating to see him lay it in when he's in a perfect position to be disrespectful to the rim, but Gortat is actually a prodigious finisher. He converted at a .736 FG% clip last season. What this propagates, though, is a belief that other teams can bully Marcin (think the Jazz game at the end of last season). Not all of this is Gortat's fault, however, as it often seems he's on an island out there.
Gortat's free throw percentage fell from 73% in 2010-11 to 65% last season. It would be beneficial for this to uptick and make teams pay for putting him on the line. The other thing it would be nice to see in Gortat's progression is the development of a post to mid-range game. From 3-15 feet last season Gortat was only 166-395, compiling a FG% of .420. This leads to the popular question of whether Gortat's efficiency and production will slide without Steve Nash setting the table for him. That seems like a fair question, one that I can't wait to see Gortat answer this season.
From the opening tip on opening night I want to see Gortat with the mindset "this means war."
Luis Scola (Death)
Scola enjoys killing them softly. The Ice Cream Man serves scoops laced with poison. He combines a set of crafty, surreptitious skills that are sometimes barely recognizable, yet undeniably effective. He plays winning basketball. He is the embodiment of the cagey veteran.
That aside, I am on the record as disapproving of the waiver claim that brought Luis to Phoenix. I didn't dismiss that Scola still had value as a player, although it appears that may be declining, but I didn't agree with the direction demonstrated by the move. In light of new evidence and events the acquisition appears more favorable, but not every action that produces a desirable outcome is a prudent action. Think Goran Dragic. I'm notorious for making stupid decisions that still work out for me. I will admit my error, but not that the case is absolutely closed.
Scola is another indispensable ingredient to a winning recipe this season. His ability to post up and use his body to create space to get shots off brings a presence to the Suns that has been sorely missed in recent years. Dude can score, just don't expect him to leave the floor while doing so. Scola is also an excellent passer, allowing for the offense to run through him to a certain extent. Luis is a decent defensive rebounder and post defender, but is a pretty weak defender overall. Most of his benefit is seen on the offensive end.
Scola is coming off an impressive Olympic effort where he managed 18.0 points, 4.6 rebound and 2.8 assists per game. So who are the Suns getting? The declining player some thought they saw last year or the rejuvenated player from the Olympics? Will Scola shake off a less than spectacular effort while navigating the obstacles of a lockout shortened season or is the death knell on his career looming closer in the distance?
Markieff Morris (Famine)
Feast or famine that is. Morris appears to be the most aggressive player of the Suns' collection of bigs. He has displayed a rapacious appetite for shots during the summer league which has extended into this preseason. He has also displayed a tendency to commit fouls in slews. Those fouls need to be abated during the regular season, because as they say - you slews, you lose. The best players are the ones that can play and Morris can't play if he's on the bench saddled with foul trouble.
Morris struggled through his rookie season after a brisk start. He has displayed an array of offensive moves around the basket, a mid-range game and even range out to the 3-point line. What he hasn't been able to do is show an ability to do these things at an efficient clip. Last year Morris' eFG% was a rather anemic .448, while his new counterpart, Luis Scola, managed .491 in his worst year as a pro. Morris may be having an identity crisis in the Suns' offensive system, as it appeared he may have fallen in love with the three, or been coached into a perimeter player, based on propitious early returns.
This is a big year for Markieff. Last year posed a challenging situation for rookies due to the ramifications of the lockout. Now he has a full offseason of basketball under his belt. He has had the privilege of a training camp. Morris has the physical tools to play at this level. He needs to develop the mental tools. Playing smarter is the name of the game for Morris this season. Don't force the bad shot. Don't commit the silly foul. Temper your enthusiasm without arresting your aggressiveness. Play with emotion instead of letting your emotion play with you.
The best case scenario for the Suns is that Morris and Scola are pushing each other for playing time until their arms hurt. It's time for Morris to take the next step in his development and feast on NBA teams across the league. Otherwise he'll be a famine on a second unit, where he's much needed, that has to be a strength for the Suns to go where they want to this season.
Jermaine O'Neal (Pestilence)
In order for O'Neal to have a pernicious effect on Suns' opponents, he must remain pestilence free himself. Injuries and age are the name of the game for a player who has only participated in 187 of his last 390 team games (48%). Going back as far as the last 10 seasons, O'Neal has only been healthy enough to play in 57% of team games.
Enter the Suns' renowned medical staff. The ensemble of wonderworkers has had prolific success with preventive maintenance regarding the health of players. They are in need of a new project, after the departure of a couple of grizzled veterans, to continue to hone their skills and eliminate the possibility of atrophy. O'Neal presents a
hopeless challenging project indeed.
That is the pendulum that swings for Jermaine this season. At one end is a productive role off the bench where he provides size, defense and rebounding. At the opposite end is a season plagued by injuries and ailments which render him ineffective. Will O'Neal be a blight on other teams or bench bound?
The Other Guys
There's a very good chance that one or more of Luke Zeller, Solomon Jones and Ike Diogu will make the team in some capacity. If nothing else, the Suns need insurance against injury to the horsemen, especially the oft-injured O'Neal. While Jones and Diogu are veteran journeymen, Zeller is a fresh face on the NBA landscape. I would like to see Diogu on the roster because, well, I like Ike.
While it's doubtful any of these guys will have a profound impact on the season, it's definitely possible they might help the Suns in a pinch. I'm not trying to knock these guys either. Out of 7 billion people in the world, only about 450 will be on NBA rosters this year. Just getting to this level is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
Time To Bring It
Now we wait and see. Can Gortat bring the fight and silence his critics? Can Scola shake off a lackluster season and be an insidious assassin? Can Morris supply some muscle to aid the War Machine and suffer through less periods of famine this year? Can O'Neal stay healthy and make a meaningful contribution? I'm ready to watch them scrape and claw with a palpable desperation. I'm ready to watch them bring it.
The Suns' frontcourt may not be the most massive in the league, but the size of the fight in our
horsemen is immense.
The Suns and the Thunder must have had different game plans coming into tonight's game. Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry made it very clear he was going to limit the starters tonight so he could take a longer look at some of the rookies and training camp invitees hoping to make the final roster. That's exactly what he did.
Scott Brooks initially stated he would limit the playing time of his starters as well. However, the 18K plus, sold out crowd in Tulsa who anxiously awaited their rare chance to catch a glimpse of the home team may have changed his mind.
Although the Thunder currently have 19 players on their roster, Brooks cut the rotation down to only 10 tonight. While James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Perry Jones, and Daniel Orton were all legitimately injured, Scott Brooks still opted to DNP four other reserves in favor of playing the starters more minutes.
Before that, it was a tightly contested game throughout the entire first half, despite the Suns starters playing between only 6-12 minutes a piece, save for Michael Beasley who played for 19.
As a whole, the Suns and Thunder both shot 49.4% from the field, while the Suns actually shot a higher percentage from three at 50% going 5-10, compared to the Thunder who shot 45%, but made 9-20.
The Suns started out allowing too many offensive rebounds which the Thunder capitalized on at the beginning. This eventually evened itself out throughout the duration of the game, but the Thunder still rebounded the ball a total of 41 times including 15 offensive rebounds, compared to 31 total and 11 offensive rebounds for the Suns.
Although it wasn't a huge disparity, the rebounds and additional three point baskets for the Thunder ended up being the difference in the game.
Goran Dragic played only seven minutes, all in the first quarter, and had a rough start to the game committing two quick turnovers and two personal fouls as well. He still managed to punch in five points on 2-3 shooting to go along with his one and only assist before exiting the game for good. Luis Scola was even more limited, playing only six minutes all in the first quarter as well. Scola barely made the box score with his one rebound and two personal fouls before being replaced halfway through the first quarter, never to return.
Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat got a little more burn tonight each registering 12 minutes, one full quarter of play in the first. Gortat was effective scoring seven points on 3-3 shooting and going 1-2 from the line, and grabbing three rebounds during his time. Dudley however failed to make much of a mark scoring only two points on 1-3 shooting.
So what about Michael Beasley? Well, even though he was the only Sun's starter to see time in both the first and third quarters, he was only marginally effective scoring six points on 2-7 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the line. He did however manage two assists and two blocked shots as well, so he still helped out in other ways during his 19 minutes of playing time.
With a grand total of only 20 points from the Suns starting five who had been playing so well together, one might expect that the Suns would get blown out against the talented three-headed monster of Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka who all played substantial minutes tonight. But instead, the Suns bench stepped up tonight and kept the game close throughout most of the first half and in the start of the third quarter, even when playing against the Thunder superstars.
Led by the hot shooting of Wesley Johnson who scored 15 points on 6-13 shooting including 3-5 from three in his 28 minutes of play, many of the other reserves also stepped up and made it a close game. PJ Tucker continued to impress with 11 points and five rebounds in nearly 29 minutes. Even Luke Zeller had a fairly productive night registering eight points and four rebounds in less than 25 minutes on the floor.
Solomon Jones played his way to a double-double by registering 10 points and 10 rebounds along with two steals and one block in 17.5 minutes. Markieff Morris had a mediocre game from a scoring standpoint with only five points, but he also contributed three rebounds and three assists in his 17 minutes of play. And Dionte Garrett appeared to be the most impressive point guard of the night with his seven points and five assists in just over 15 minutes.
Ike Diogu also pitched in nine points and three rebounds in less than 10 minutes. Sebastian Telfair scored a quick seven points in just over nine minutes, and Jermaine O'Neal pitched in five points and one rebound in his eight minutes of action.
The only Suns' reserve who didn't appear to have at least a decent night was Kendall Marshall who played 24 minutes yet scored zero points, dished out only three assists, and committed two turnovers. However, he did grab five rebounds and stole the ball three times as well...so even he found a way to contribute.
With a Suns team who's starting five had played so well thus far in the preseason, and a bench who had failed to impress, this was actually just what Alvin Gentry and the rest of the coaching staff was looking for.
It's clear that Gentry's game-plan wasn't to try to win this game as much as it was to audition the backups and get a better feel for who should see minutes, and who deserves to be on the roster.
Save for Marshall, who is a lock to make the team regardless, nearly all of the reserves and pre-season invitees rose to the challenge tonight.
With only three more preseason games remaining before the season opener on Halloween night, Gentry and company are going to have some tough decisions to make here shortly when the roster will have to be cut down from 17 to at most 15...meaning at least two of these players will have to be cut.
The Suns will certainly need to further evaluate these players over these next three games, but having too many talented players is a nice problem to have.