As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with a foreign-born rogues gallery -- Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili, and Leandro Barbosa.
It's worth noting -- before one mentions his NBA foibles -- that Luis Scola's international career is fantastic. He was a key contributor on Argentina's golden generation of Olympic teams, and while many will remember Manu Ginobili for his unprecedented three-year triple crown of a Euroleague title, Olympic Gold Medal, and NBA title, few will recall that the exact same thing wasn't too far from happening with Scola. He was actually on the team that pushed the Ginobili-led 2001 Bologna team to a full 5-game finals, and they came within 8 points of winning the deciding game. He also led the Baskonia teams that made three straight Euroleague Final Fours in the mid-aughts. And consider this -- had Scola's team beaten Manu's team, he'd be the one with a gold medal and a Euroleague championship, and had his buyout talks NOT blown up, he could've potentially been on the Spurs roster for the 2007 title! Which would've given him the triple crown that -- currently -- has only ever been achieved by the immortal Ginobili. How ridiculous is that?
... while pretty ridiculous, it's also kind of a stretch. Scola has been great internationally, but he's hardly the player Manu is -- there's a reason people compare Manu's international cred to Jordan's stateside cred. But it's hard to understate how utterly and completely different it is to watch Luis Scola in the international game as opposed to the NBA. Absolutely night and day. In the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Scola didn't just look solid -- he dominated all comers and was about as hot as a player could reasonably be. He destroyed EVERYONE on the boards, made a dizzying array of impossible shots, and led a strikingly talent lacking shell of an Argentina team to overachieve the entire tournament. He moved the ball, worked on defense (insofar as he's able), and generally looked like a superstar. He was the runner-up tournament MVP to Kevin Durant, in my eyes, and nobody was anywhere close. Luis Scola is a brilliant player, one whose international dominance has to be seen to believed. Especially if you watch him in the NBA. The half of Luis Scola you see in the NBA is like a shadow of his international half -- a lesser shadow that has never quite lived up to his statistics and never quite had the right pieces around him.
Despite being a relatively skilled offensive player, the net result of Scola's NBA offense tends to be relatively shaky. Take last season, for instance. Despite shooting an above-average percentage from every distance of the floor, Scola rated out in the bottom 50% of all power forwards in shooting percentage. Because unfortunately for him, his offense is utilized in a way that's naturally inefficient -- he takes an incredible amount of long two pointers and 3-9 foot post-ups, and while he's good at everything individually, his offense lends itself to the sort of broader distributional concerns that make players like Jamal Crawford and Nick Young immensely frustrating. Simply far too many inefficient shots to be an overall efficient offensive player, even if he's relatively decent at every shot a team could ask him to take offensively inside the 3-point-line. He doesn't mitigate his case through bundles of free throws, either -- Luis Scola averaged less than two free throws per 10 shots taken, which is an absolutely horrible number for a big man in the modern league -- he converted well when he got to the line, but he got to the line so rarely it was hardlya huge asset. Combine that with his turnovers -- which were numerous -- and you don't have a particularly huge asset on the offensive end, at least not anymore.
This is especially glaring given Scola's lack of talent on defense, and essentially disintegrating ability to corral strong rebounds. His rebounding has gotten worse three seasons in a row, and has approached levels of startling ineffectiveness for a large player -- Scola averaged just 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes last year, a number that put Scola among rebounding peers like Jared Jeffries, Jonas Jerebko, and the ghost of Lamar Odom. Not really names you want to be reading about. Scola's also a bit old -- he's 32 this season, and given the ridiculous miles placed on his aging legs in the Euroleague and as Argentina's Olympic/FIBA stalwart, that's not a young 32. His defense looked marginally better than usual last season, but at his age, strong defensive years are rarely going to be built on -- more likely, he regresses back to his mean as a pesky but not-particularly-effective defender. And there's nothing particularly wrong with that. Marginally useful offensive players with shaky defense and subpar rebounding aren't exactly hot commodities, but they aren't useless either -- with his general skills on offense, a team like the Spurs or the Celtics could have a better use for Scola by using him differently and putting him in a more international-style offense.
Which, ironically, speaks to the most unfortunate thing about Scola's time in the NBA -- the team that drafted him (the Spurs, of course) was always the team that could've used his talents the best, even in Scola's prime. Running international-style offense with Manu off the Spurs' bench was always fated Scola's best fit, and sat down next to Fabricio Oberto and his good friend Manu, it's possible the Spurs could've drawn a bit more of his defensive talent and tapped a bit more of his international magic. Alas. His team refused to lower his buyout to any reasonable level, the Spurs couldn't bring him over, and they ended up trading his rights for a player who never suited up in a Spurs uniform (Vassilis Spanoulis) and a player who's a 10-15 minute a night guy at best (Nando De Colo). The Spurs front office doesn't tend to make many mistakes, but trading away Scola ranks as one of the biggest they've ever made. A regrettable turn of events for the big Argentine. But he's made his money, and he has a strong and storied international career to fall back on. As well as his league-best impression of Dikembe Mutombo.
And sometimes, that's all you really need.
I'll admit, today's longform piece is probably the weirdest thing I've tried to write for the capsules yet. The Mo Williams capsule might approach it in general audacity, but I spent so long with writer's block on this one I ended up going with the absolute most ridiculous of my several prospective ideas in hopes that it would rouse me to write a piece that was as good as Manu Ginobili deserved. Don't quite know if I succeeded, but alas. Hope it suits someone's fancy anyway. Join me on a short joust through expressive fiction and fable as I attempt to rationalize out the aging process and the grind of life with Manu Ginobili, the personification of Death, and the chaos that Manu Ginobili brings the Spurs.
Death approached the entrance to Manu Ginobili's childhood home. The lonely ghoulish figure rapped his skeletal fingers on the door, as per his usual -- once to notice, twice to affect, thrice to open. Tap. Tap. Tap. The locked door swung open on its hinges. He slid into the house, closing the door quietly behind him. A cat hissed. A gesture was made. The cat fell softly into a good night's sleep. Death was not cruel. He would not kill, at least not indiscriminately. He was tasked only to take, to claim what was rightfully his. That is Death's dictate. His curse, as some say.
Manu Ginobili had been a great player for a long time. But nothing lasts forever. No player is immune to age, to the slow churn of skills lost and injuries accrued. And Death was there to exact his dismal calculus. Another withdrawal from a major athlete's bank of tricks. Sometimes a player's bag is so full that his taking is imperceptible. Nash, Malone, Duncan. Other times, he goes a bit overboard -- he will never forget his mistaken sleight of hand with the great Muhammad Ali. Tonight, he needed to make a large withdrawal -- Manu had dodged him for several years, predicting his approach and hiding out away from it all. The game was growing tiresome.
As Death stepped through the home, he could find no sign of the man he knew was there.
Leandro Barbosa -- the Brazilian Blur. Arguably the fastest player in the game (even at the age of 30!), Barbosa is a limited player who's quite good at a few things and quite awful at many others. We'll start with the good. Barbosa may very well be the fastest player to ever play the game -- when he turns on the jets, he's faster dribbling a basketball than the average person is in a heavy sprint. Which is absolutely ridiculous. The amount of talent it takes to be as fast as Barbosa is while dribbling is enough to make any scout salivate, and if he'd ever had a very consistent shot, it's possible he could've been a star. Could've. The problem Barbosa faced -- throughout his whole career, really -- is that he's a profoundly true-to-form example of a rhythm shooter. It generally takes him some time in a game to find his shot when he's not able to get immediately to the rim, which is deadly when you're a player who tends to average around 20 mintues per game -- if it takes you 5-10 minutes on the floor to find your rhythm, you're punting about half the time on the floor in search of it, offensively. Not great news.
His speed makes him good at driving, but it also tends to cover up that he's not particularly excellent at finishing -- which is something of a problem when your shot is sketchy and your game is built around your getting-to-the-rim speed. He's also positively atrocious at drawing contact, drawing (as with Scola) roughly two free throws for every 10 shots he takes. It's a terrible number, one primarily a function of design -- he doesn't like injury, which is wholly reasonable, but in his desire to remain uninjured he shies from all contact and contorts his body in consistently absurd ways to avoid it. His poor perimeter defense has been substantially harmful to his team throughout his whole career, and his lack of tertiary skills (relatively atrocious passing talent, decidedly poor rebounder, high usage despite his poor efficiency) makes him relatively tough to play for big minutes. This is doubly so at this stage of his career, after having suffered several minor injuries over the last few years that have sapped his speed (if only just) and left him -- while still arguably the fastest in the league -- with far less a lead over the #2 or #3 players than there used to be.
Off the court, though? He's a really nice guy, and he features an incredible life story. Grew up in abject poverty in Brazil, with a family that never quite had enough money to buy him a pair of good basketball shoes -- getting Nikes or Adidas cost his family roughly two months of salary. He rose out of it to become the first drafted Brazilian player in NBA history, which makes him essentially a national hero, among young Brazilian basketball players everywhere. It's really cool. Lots of great stuff. If you want to read more about him, there was a phenomenal series of posts back in Truehoop's early days that does about 200x more justice than I ever could at presenting Barbosa's story. It's a 10 part series titled "Rolling with Leandro", written by a journalist who found Barbosaand brought him to the U.S. to work out for teams and try to get drafted. He was basically his personal manager and his personal translator -- it's an extremely long piece, but if you ever have some time to kill and want a kind of hilarious and awesome take on what it's like to (essentially) bring an nba player into the league, this is your jam. Includes tales of Jerry West telling Barbosa he's "blessed by god", Barbosa being so obsessed with blondes that he only becomes happy about Phoenix when he realizes there are lots of leggy blondes there, and Hubie Brown cussing everyone out for no reason whatsoever at a random Grizzlies workout. If you've never seen it, I'd check it out as soon as you can.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. MGallop and J are the two who got 3/3 right on today's players, although Chilai probably would've gotten Scola had I not been a little bit hyperbolic in the Scola riddle. My bad, Chilai.
- Player #283 will likely improve his team's defense this season simply by dint of being a larger player than the trash he's replacing. This is kind of funny, because Player #283 is a downright horrible defender.
- Player #284 looked really good as a young player, and after his performance in the 2010 World Championships, I was all in on him as one of the future mainstays at his position. It appears I was... uh, potentially really excruciatingly wrong.
- Player #285 has a shot release that's ALMOST as quick as Korver's. He's a deadly three point shooter, although he can't do much else. And yeah, his contract may have been a bit too long. But for that price, can you really fault them?
Don't forget to check out our two pieces from earlier this morning -- Alex Arnon's 3rd edition of Small Market Mondays, and Adam Koscielak's scoop on a Polish interview that sheds some light on Marcin Gortat's quiet frustrations.
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