Since the Indiana Pacers added Luis Scola via a trade with the Phoenix Suns, the common thought has been that Indiana boosted their pitiful bench. This seems to be most prevalent on the offensive end with Scola, especially as he is taking Tyler Hansbrough’s place as the backup power forward. But how exactly can Scola improve the offense? The pick and roll.
The most common play, the default play of the NBA is the pick and roll, and the Pacers were atrocious with the pick and roll last year. The Pacers scored just .75 points per possession with the ball handler on the pick and roll last season, according to Synergy Sports. That ranked 24th in the NBA. When the Pacers ran a pick and roll and gave it to the roll man, they scored .91 points per possession, 25th best in the NBA. (The team the rest of the league are chasing, the Miami Heat, were seventh with the ball handler and first with the roll man in points per possession.)
Enter Luis Scola, who will immediately improve the Pacers pick and roll. As the roll man, Scola posted a points per possession of 1.03, a huge upgrade from Hansbrough who posted .86 points per possession as the roll man. Scola was better than David West and Roy Hibbert who were both under 1 point per possession last season.
Scola can provide more than just scoring off of the pick and roll. Scola, as a big man, is a skilled passer that will bring added court vision to the Pacers. Last year Scola averaged 3 assists per 36 minutes with the Suns and for his career he has averaged 2.35 assists per 36. Hansbrough, for comparison, has averaged one assist per 36 minutes for his career. West and Hibbert have averaged 2.33 and 2.25 assists per 36, respectively. Rather than the passing ability of the big men drop off dramatically when the starters hit the bench, it will actually improve with Scola in the game.
If Indiana improves their pick and roll play with Scola, defenses will have to commit a third defender, which will leave an open shooter like Paul George, Danny Granger or Chris Copeland. So expect Scola to make that extra pass quite often after a pick and roll to get an open three against a rotating defense.
However, don’t expect the boneheaded plays that Hansbrough provided to completely disappear. Scola averaged 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes last season, the same number that Hansbrough produced. Scola will turn the ball over, but it may be more tolerable than Hansbrough if Scola finds George for an open three after a silky smooth pick and roll.
The efficiency of the ball handler should improve on the pick and roll with a real threat like Scola as the roll man. George Hill ranked among the top 50 players in the NBA in efficiency on the pick and roll. A good place to start, but as the point guard of a team eyeing a title, he needs to become even better.
Paul George could gain the most from Scola’s pick and roll game. If George is going to enter the realm of NBA elite, he needs to be able to run the pick and roll much more effectively. He was in the bottom half of the league in efficiency on the pick and roll, scoring just .70 points per possession as the ball handler on pick and rolls. That number needs to skyrocket like George’s popularity did last season. George needs to be able to run a pick and roll at any point in a game and get points on the board for Indiana. Scola should draw more attention on the pick and roll, but teams won’t be eager to leave George for Scola, so it will still be up to George to make and finish plays.
The offense should be improved with the upgrade of Scola, but Hansbrough did bring valuable assets to the Pacer frontcourt that Scola may not be able to replicate, like drawing fouls. Per 36 minutes, Hansbrough drew twice as many fouls as Scola last season. Getting opposing players into foul trouble will be more difficult, without Hansbrough’s under your skin type of play. Also, Hansbrough pulled down 12.8 percent of available offensive rebounds while Scola grabbed just 8 percent. Not a huge concern, but expect less second chance points when the second unit hits the floor.