"I hope so." Larry Bird responded, when asked if the team expects to re-sign Luis Scola.
On April 30, he turned 35, making him the oldest player on the roster. He shot a career-worst 69% from the free throw line, and he averaged fewer than 10 points, but the Indiana Pacers still want to retain his services.
And for good reason.
Here are some numbers which support Bird's position on the free agent:
24.0: The percentage of Luis Scola's post-ups which resulted in a trip to the charity stripe during the 2014-15 season. Taking into account only those players who attempted at least 40 shots on the block, the Argentinian's free throw frequency (24.0%) trailed only Chicago's Nikola Mirotic (29.0%), per NBA.com's Play Type data.
46.4: Luis Scola's field goal percentage on the block. While David West, having converted only 38.3% of his post-ups during the 2014-15 season, showed some signs of wear-and-tear as he struggled to overpower opponents in the paint, Scola's fuller repertoire of craftiness around the rim proved, at least for him, that age is just a number. Whether going up-and-under or successfully baiting opponents into fouls with deceptive head fakes, Scola proved himself, arguably, to be Indiana's most versatile front court option.
9.9: The shortest average field goal distance (feet) recorded by Scola since donning a Houston Rockets uniform in 2012. Rather than drifting further and further away from the basket or shooting elbow jumper after elbow jumper, Indiana's reserve power forward attempted 41.03% of his field goals in the restricted area and 15.91% in the paint (non-restricted area) as compared to 39.94% from mid-range, per NBAsavant.com. Inversely, David West attempted 58.45% of his shots from mid-range as compared to 18.66% in the restricted area and 19.97% in the paint (non-restricted area).
91.0: The Pacers' defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) when George Hill, C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey were joined by David West and Luis Scola, well below Indiana's overall rating (100.9) for the season, per NBA.com's advanced lineup data. If the Blue-and-Gold do indeed move forward with plans to downsize their front court next season, this figure bodes well for such a transition because it demonstrates (at least in limited sample size) that the Pacers are capable, in spurts, of going smaller without giving up too many points on the defensive end.
11.4: The number of rebounds Scola grabbed per 36 minutes, a team-high.
1: The number of games Luis Scola has missed since being acquired via trade by the Indiana Pacers two seasons ago. "I don't feel close to the end, that's the truth," reports Pacers.com. "I've got energy and I feel I can still do this and I'm still having fun and I can work out hard and play hard every day. As long as all that's still there, I don't see me being close to retirement."
Whether hampered by an elbow injury or held back by a lesser role, Luis Scola's offense, during his first-year with the Indiana Pacers, consisted of little more than shooting elbow jumpers. Now, a year later, he has proven himself to be more than just a mid-range bailout option.
Though traditional statistics may not reflect it, at age 35 he is still more than capable of out-smarting opponents on the block, drawing fouls in the post, playing center in smaller reserve lineups, hustling for rebounds and just showing up to work game in, game out.
But will the consummate professional's place of employment still be Bankers Life Fieldhouse? The Pacers likely won't be the only team "hoping" to obtain his services this summer, according to this tweet from Hoops Hype contributor and USA Today Sports reporter David Alarcon:
En septiembre hablé con Luis Scola sobre futuro. Guarda buen recuerdo de Houston (y Kevin McHale le quiere) y dijo que China es gran opción.— David Alarcón (@DAlarcon_NBA) April 16, 2015
Which roughly translated says, "I talked with Luis Scola about his future back in September. He misses Houston (and Kevin McHale wants him) and also said China is a great option."
With regard to his two-year stint with the Pacers, Scola told the Indy Star, "It was fun. It was fun to be here. It's a good team, it's a good organization. It was a great honor to play for Larry and we'll see. It might be over, it might not. We'll see in a couple of days. Like I said, I might have a little bit better impression of what their expectations are going into the future and we'll play out the summer."
Whether here, back in Houston or anywhere else, the Argentinian's versatility is worth keeping around.
Because, more than anything, what Luis Scola's game proves is that while athleticism and brute strength are finite, craftiness is timeless.