An off-season look at a valued employee of the Phoenix Suns was as easy as watching NBA TV’s broadcast of a Team USA exhibition game.
But we were required to pay attention, of course, to the other team.
Sunday’s other team was Argentina, which showed up in Barcelona for this pre-Olympic friendly with recent Suns acquisition Luis Scola still working as its low-post henchman. Scola, plucked by Phoenix with the winning bid after taking an amnesty hit from the Houston Rockets, certainly didn’t disappoint.
Well, that’s if you were looking for a signature gamesmanship that manifests in illegal screens (I think one was actually called), relentless officiating protests and low-flying lane maneuvers that provoked several calls from the same referees who were the targets of his crabbing.
Based on those variables, Scola was in midseason form.
That should be comforting for fans in Phoenix, where Scola goes from tepidly despised foe to local treasure. The word tepidly was used because even though the 32-year-old Scola was drafted by the hated San Antonio Spurs, all of his NBA grinding has been done on behalf of the Rockets. Playing alongside Manu Ginobili for several years on the Argentine national team only makes Scola seem like a Spur.
Unlike the Spurs, the Rockets don’t move the meter much in these parts.
Anyway, Scola produced 14 points, six rebounds and 10 free-throw attempts in an 86-80 loss to the Americans.
But aside from the deft footwork and boffo court awareness, it should be noted that even though most of his shift was spent battling smaller Team USA defenders, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Scola did almost nothing in the second half.
As NBA TV analyst Steve Smith pointed out, Scola looked pretty gassed down the stretch. He did play 31 minutes, but most of his down time occurred early in the fourth quarter. Instead of looking fresh during Argentina’s closing run, the new Sun missed a pair of big free throws with just under a minute to play (he was 4 of 10 overall). Well, they could have been big; Argentina didn’t intentionally foul or play the clock in an attempt to rally and win a dress rehearsal against the gold-medal favorite.
Although he and Michael Beasley should provide a couple of on-the-block upgrades for Phoenix this season, let’s temper our enthusiasm by reviewing Scola’s efficiency numbers over the past two seasons.
During the most recent campaign, his 15.2 PER (Player Efficiency Rating, as listed on NBA.com) put him 72nd on the league list. The year before, Scola was registered at 32 with a PER of 19.6.
His rebounding slipped by almost two per game in that span, and his historically indifferent defense didn’t exactly rise to new levels of excellence.
Scola is, however, the best post player the Suns have had in years and — at about $4 million on the Phoenix cap — reasonably priced.
Despite patting themselves on the back last season over an improvement in team defense, the Suns still finished 24th among NBA teams in overall efficiency when opponents had the ball. That’s up one spot from the previous season.
The points-per-48-minutes was down about 4, but the entire league dropped by 3, and the only significant detail is where you rank among your competitors.
Out of this quest to upgrade the defense skips Grant Hill and in comes Beasley.
OK, during last week’s welcome-to-Phoenix press conference, the 6-9 forward suggested that being a good basketball player and using your skills to deal with size-related circumstances is more important than having a defined position.
I agree, for the most part.
But even though coaches can be creative in hiding defensive mismatches, the Suns will have a bigger challenge guarding small forwards with shooting range and/or some shake to their game.
Fortunately, not many Western Conference three men have an advanced level of off-the-dribble skill.
It also should be noted that Beasley intends to become much better on that end of the floor.
“With my ability, my competitiveness,” he said, “I can be a great defender. I haven’t really shown that.”
Well … OK then.
By the way, Beasley also said the Suns can be great and can win it all.
I’m not sure if he meant this season.
By defeating the Memphis Grizzlies’ cubs last weekend, the younger Suns finished the Las Vegas Summer League at 2-3 and encouraged by a strong effort from rookie point guard Kendall Marshall.
Marshall, the 13th overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, scored 15 points against Memphis — making 6 of 10 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range — and collected 10 dimes.
It was the strongest effort of the week for the cerebral lefty, whose early run in Vegas had been a bust … in terms of marksmanship.
But the kid has excellent vision as a passer (right, no shock there), which translates to finding a comfort level as he gains experience and has the luxury of NBA-level shooters surrounding him in the Suns’ offense.
It’s interesting to note that despite having no true shooting guards (here we go defining positions again) under contract when the league opened, the Suns’ summer roster also was extremely light in two guards.
The roster was pretty heavy in big forwards attempting to play on the perimeter. This included sophomore-to-be Markieff Morris, who was impressive in Vegas — when he chose to spend more time working inside.