What to expect from Luis Scola

Before joining the Houston Rockets over the offseason, Luis Scola was named 2006-2007 ACB MVP and led his team, TAU Cerámica to top 4 finishes in both the ACB and the Euroleague. Quite simply, he was one of Europe’s best players. In Houston he’ll join one of the NBA’s best teams, 52 wins last season, which retooled its roster over the offseason to compete with the Western Conference’s top teams. Scola will likely start alongside Yao, T-Mac, and Shane Battier, although he could also come off the bench as Chuck Hayes’ back-up.

Other international bigmen playing in today’s NBA who have made the jump across the pond from Europe have found varying levels of NBA success.  They run the gamut from the reigning MVP to benchwarmers on lottery teams. Because the Houston Rockets are a couple strong rotation players away from a ring, NBA fans should be asking themselves where Scola will fit along this spectrum as well as how he fits in on the Rockets.

With Yao and T-Mac, the Rockets already have two stars around which their offense is built. However, their supporting cast has not been up to the standards of the other Western Conference powers. With today’s rules, it is no longer sufficient to have two offensive stars and a strong team defense, as the Rockets’ 14th ranked offense found out in their first round defeat to the well-balanced Utah Jazz. At the very least, the Rockets need a PF who can hold his own in their 3rd ranked defense, and hit the open jumpers and make the cuts necessary to keep defenses from doubling Yao. With new coach Rick Adelman’s dynamic offense, however, the Rockets’ offense will rely more on ball movement and the involvement of all five players on the floor.

Scola has the basketball IQ, passing ability, and scoring ability to be an above-average NBA starter in Adelman’s system and next to Yao. In a supporting role, Scola (13.94 assist-rate for TAU last season) should be at least equivalent to, and likely a slight improvement over, Juwan Howard (13.2 assist-rate for the Rockets last season) as a playmaker in Adelman’s system which focused on … in Sacremento. Scoring efficiency and rebouding are the areas in which Scola should provide a significant improvement over the departed Howard. Howard was fairly inefficient at the 4 spot (.465 eFG%, .517 TS%, 1.03 PSA), while Scola was extremely efficient even as TAU’s leading scorer (.603 eFG%, .63 TS%, 1.27 PSA). The physical play and defensive talent of the NBA could effect Scola’s scoring efficiency; however, this may be offset by his move from leading scorer to 3rd or 4th option. Howard is a notoriously weak rebounder (12.7 reb-rate last season, and 11.7 on his career). Scola should represent an improvement on the boards. I wouldn’t expect him to dominate the glass, but he should put up average rebounding numbers.

Scola should improve the Rockets at a position that was previously a slight weakness. In the worst-case, he has the well-rounded game to at least be a good role player, an efficient scorer who grabs some boards and plays a team-first game, next to the Rockets’ two stars, although his defense is one question mark at the NBA level. Most likely, Scola will be a quality NBA starter and one of the league’s more dangerous role players. He has been a dynamic scorer at the European and International levels, and opposing defenses may have fits accounting for Yao, T-Mac, Scola, and the Rockets’ arsenal of flashy PGs. Scola’s scoring ability both in the post and from mid-range will be a weapon that the Rockets’ revamped offense was missing last season.

With Scola and Jackie Butler joining Yao, Chuck Hayes, and Steve Novak, the Rockets’ frontcourt is on par with the elite frontcourts in the NBA. The backcourt depth around T-Mac, which struggled in last season’s playoffs, could be a key for the Rockets. The talent is definitely there-Steve Francis, Mike James, and rookie Aaron Brooks join playmaker Rafer Alston and sharp-shooting Luther Head-Adelman’s toughest job may be to manage all that depth.

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