Signed a day apart this past July, Luis Scola and Anthony Bennett perfectly embody both the Nets’ organizational directive this offseason and how the team must move forward on its long and winding stretch back to relevance.
Scola spent last season with the Raptors and, at 36 years old, might be on his last NBA contract as he works through a one-year, $5 million deal signed on July 13.
The Argentinean is far removed from his highly productive years with the Rockets, but was brought to Brooklyn to give the young Nets a veteran voice in the frontcourt as well as another rebounder off the bench.
As for Anthony Bennett, the former No. 1 overall pick has struggled to find his footing in the NBA after headlining one of the worst draft classes in recent memory. He too spent the 2015-16 season with Toronto — in his home province of Ontario — but played a decent chunk of time with Raptors 905, the team’s D-League affiliate.
While it’s clear he’s not the talent Cleveland expected him to be, the 23-year-old has good size and knows his list of NBA opportunities is only narrowing, not expanding.
Both Scola and Bennett were low-risk pickups this past July for Sean Marks, whose emphasis on international players and guys on the margin — those on their way out of the NBA or those forgotten by other teams — likely resulted in these two signings.
So far, through 16 games, it has been the older Scola who has gotten the lion’s share of playing time at backup power forward over Bennett. He has appeared in 15 games, averaging just under 15 minutes per, while Bennett has played in just 10 games at over 10 minutes an appearance.
Neither have exactly lit up the floor when they’ve played, but the Nets have especially struggled when Scola comes off the bench. His net rating of -15.4 is remarkably low, and shows how Brooklyn is usually at a major disadvantage — notably on the defensive end — when using Scola at the 4. His plus/minus of -4.9 per game is not to scoff at either, considering his role has been limited to a certain extent.
As demonstrated in the Nets’ loss to the Kings on Sunday, Scola simply doesn’t have the lateral movement to guard opposing power forwards with any sort of mobility. He, surprisingly, was left to guard DeMarcus Cousins for good chunks of the game and, as you’d expect, was roasted. In Scola’s 12 minutes, the Nets were outscored by 14 points.
Bennett, who has mostly played in garbage time in addition to an appearance with the Long Island Nets before Sunday’s Brooklyn Nets game, has shown some three-point shooting ability but also has struggled a bit defensively. His -7.2 net rating still isn’t good, but it’s not nearly as bad as Scola’s, who is 13 years his senior.
I’m sure the longtime veteran has been great in the Nets’ locker room and is a good teammate, but he should not be seeing the court instead of Bennett anymore. Brooklyn brought the former No. 1 pick in for a reason and, with his professional career still young, Bennett is still a relative wild card.
What you see in Luis Scola is what you’re going to get. He can make a three and is a fine defensive rebounder, but he doesn’t have the size or speed to hang with most team’s reserve forwards. Too often he lunges, unsuccessfully, for loose balls instead of diving for them, which gives other teams an extra possession and — with the Nets’ lackluster defense — often an extra couple of points.
Hustling and being physical isn’t Scola’s game anymore, though, and that doesn’t fit the fast-paced Nets offense. That’s where Bennett should come into the fray.
He will never be confused for a speedster, but Bennett is in much better shape now than he was in earlier in his career and, in his glimpses of playing time, has looked pretty mobile. For sure, if he was tasked with guarding Cousins or Al Horford or even someone like Atlanta’s Mike Muscala, Bennett probably wouldn’t fare too well but he’d certainly prove to be a better option than Scola.
The Nets are a young team that is only going to compete if all five guys on the floor can get up and down the floor quickly and repeatedly. During the current seven-game losing streak, Brooklyn’s pace has decreased a little bit since the 4-5 start to the season, and part of that has to do with the absence of Jeremy Lin, but it also has to do with Scola, whose tank has seemingly been closer and closer to empty over the past few weeks.
It just makes more sense for Bennett to at least get an extended audition at backup power forward. Schematically, he should work better than Scola and, considering the Nets are going nowhere fast, why not give the lottery pick a legitimate chance? According to the best sports betting websites, the Nets playoff odds are pretty slim, so now is the time to experiment.
Once free agent pickups are eligible to be traded on December 15th, I’m sure the Nets will try to unload Scola’s contract, but it would be hard to coax a team to take him considering how he has played as of late. Bennett, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere, and he actually could be a nice addition to a roster that has already been through into disarray due to injury.
Also, Chris McCullough is waiting in the wings with Long Island, so Bennett’s window to prove himself isn’t infinite. But, he at least deserves the chance to show his worth, and that should come at the expense of Scola.