Newly-signed up Indiana Pacers Luis Scola practices with the team. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – Argentine forward Luis Scola, a veteran of several international competitions, is expected to be a key player off the bench for Indiana this season, with at least one teammate believing that he can be the missing piece to the Pacers’ championship puzzle.
Indiana won the Central Division and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, where they pushed eventual champions Miami to seven games despite having a mediocre offense and a lackluster bench.
They got considerably deeper this offseason, adding not only Scola but CJ Watson as well to serve as the back-up point guard, and drafted Solomon Hill with the 23rd pick of the draft.
But it is the addition of Scola, an All-Rookie First Team selection in 2008, that is giving the Pacers more hope.
“Luis Scola is probably the biggest (acquisition) that we have,” said veteran forward Danny Granger earlier this week in Manila. “I mean, he’s a starting power forward, and in some kind of way, miraculously, Larry Bird pulled off the trade to get him here and he’s our back-up.”
“That’s a great luxury that most teams don’t have. So I think he’s gonna help us the most,” he added.
When asked if Scola may be the missing piece to the Pacers’ puzzle, Granger answered: “I really do think he can. Every team needs that guy. He gives us an overload of talent, honestly.”
All-Star forward Paul George said that with Scola in the fold, the Pacers’ opponents will have to deal not just with veteran David West but with the Argentine as well.
“Whoever’s guarding us don’t really have a night off at the power forward position,” said George, who also called Scola a “playmaker.” “It’s great to have Luis with us. He’s a smart player, he’s a heck of a finisher, he can shoot the ball well from the outside, and he gives us a lot of different looks.”
West, Indiana’s starting power forward, expects the “battle-tested” Scola to be one of the players who can carry the team.
“What we want is a very, very productive and successful basketball season, but it’s a very long season,” he said. “We’re gonna need guys at different moments of that season to carry the weight, to carry the load, and he’s one of those guys we know we can depend on.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel said Scola’s presence also improved the Pacers’ basketball IQ.
“He is someone who has a feel for the game that quite frankly, you can’t teach,” he said. “So to have him come in and be able to contribute to the culture that we have, he should really strengthen our team.”
In Indiana’s 96-116 loss to Houston in their preseason game in the Philippines, Scola came off the bench to score 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and played a little under 18 minutes.
“I’m very happy to be here, and I’m happy to be playing a big role (in this team),” said Scola after the game.
Vogel, who said that Scola will be playing a big role for the Pacers, said the Argentine big man’s experience will come in handy specially in the playoffs.
“Luis is a guy with extraordinary experience, and if you look at some of the shortcomings that we had in the playoffs last year, I think the lack of experience was probably the biggest one,” said the coach. “We’re excited that Luis is a part of our team and his experience is gonna be big come playoff time.”
Scola played for the Phoenix Suns last season before he was traded to Indiana in July. He averaged 12.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his lone season with Phoenix. Prior to last year, he played the first five seasons of his career with the Houston Rockets, and averaged a career high 18.3 points per game in 2011.