Zaza Pachulia’s numbers aren’t dazzling, but maybe they don’t need to be

Here’s a randomly created unfair stereotype: Men from the Republic of Georgia can’t jump (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

A detailed look at the numbers reveals that Zaza Pachulia is more or less exactly who we thought he was.

The native of Tbilisi, Georgia and his 3-year, $16-million contract did not turn the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks into a playoff team, even though that seemed to be the goal of general manager John Hammond when he signed Zaza and a pile of pricy veterans last summer. On the other hand, Pachulia brought to Milwaukee the exact same set of skills for which he was known during his eight seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.

For instance, a skill prized in NBA big men is rim protection. Pachulia does not block shots frequently. In his final season with the Hawks, Pachulia amassed only 12 blocks.

Continuing the trend after signing in Milwaukee, Zaza blocked 14 shots in 2013-14. Here is a Bucks-y partial list of players who blocked more than 14 shots last season:

Nate Wolters (!): 15
Chris Douglas-Roberts: 16
Caron Butler: 17
Brandon Knight: 17
John Salmons: 19
Monta Ellis: 23

From their respective Milwaukee tenures, it’s fairly clear that none of those guys were shot repellents, no? Zaza isn’t one either.

Sometimes protecting the rim goes beyond blocking shots though. If Pachulia was instead dissuading or altering shots — forcing opponents to miss shots near the rim — that would be sufficient. But again, Zaza falls short of his peers.

For each of the Bucks defenders who faced 3 or more shots per game while within 5 feet of the rim, here are the defensive numbers sorted by the field goal percentage of their opponents.


In short, teams are making a lot of shots over Zaza. He doesn’t jump well, and a 2013 injury to his Achilles’ tendon has robbed him of what little vertical burst he had to begin with. He’s an easy mark in the paint.

The team numbers reflect the same trend. The Bucks block 3.4 shots per 100 possessions with Zaza playing and 6.0 shots per 100 possessions with him on the bench.

Enough with the bad numbers though. Pachulia helps the Bucks in a lot of subtle ways. Despite his substandard rim protection, the Bucks still played better with Zaza on the court (-6.9 points per 100 possessions) than off it (-9.4 points). He must be doing something right.

One of Zaza’s strengths is passing. Per 48 minutes, his assists created 10.9 points — the top mark on the team among non-point guards. To revert to anecdotal evidence, it was visibly clear that young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nate Wolters moved better off the ball with Pachulia in the lineup. HE seemed to have a strong big-to-big connection with John Henson as well. His sharp passing soothed the offense like a cozy security blanket.

The difference was most noticeable from long range. The Bucks shot 46% on two-point field goal attempts whether they were playing with or without Zaza. However, Milwaukee was a markedly better three-point team with Pachulia playing.

Bucks 3-pt. FG%
Zaza on: 38.0%
Zaza off: 34.1%

As a point of reference, the difference between 38.0% and 34.1% on a team-wide scale is the difference between Golden State (4th-best of 30 teams) and Minnesota (26th out of 30). Good passing is contagious, and good passing leads to better shotmaking. And in 2014, the NBA is a shotmaker’s league.

Breaking down the numbers on Pachulia is a mixed bag, and one that is predictably mixed. He makes the offense better and the defense worse — with the net difference being a slight positive. Ultimately, the factor that probably swings the balance in favor of Zaza is that he provides a calming veteran presence in a locker room full of youngsters searching for one. For a group without viable championship aspirations for 2015, a team like the Bucks could do a lot worse than Zaza Pachulia for their backup center.

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  1. While I agree that Z.Pachulia isn’t a bad depth and locker room guy to have around he definitely got paid way to much ($5.2M/year! At MAX he shouldn’t have costed much more than $3M/year) and for way to long a period of time (3 years? Why not 1 or 2?) for what he offers. I still believe that it was because Larry Drew wanted him here that we ended up signing him.

  2. You said it just right, Za Za isn’t a bad BACKUP center. Last year he played 30 plus minutes a game which was torture to watch and endure. He also is way overpaid.

    His main contribution to the Bucks? He played so much last year that he helped us greatly in landing the worst record in the NBA and thus – the ability to draft Parker.

  3. I was mad when they traded him away. I was mad when they brought him back. What are you going to do…? Guy’s a brawler, not so much a baller. It is what it is.

  4. Richard Franklin

    I knew that he didn’t offer a whole lot; however, while watching Giannis on YouTube, I noticed that Giannis was a BIG recipient of some sweet assists from ZaZa. He also plays a needed “big brother” role for the team. Sort of like the role Jack Haley used to play for the Bulls to keep Dennis Rodman’s head together. I wished that we could have kept Jeff Adrien to play that “enforcer” guy that we need, but, ZaZa will have to do. Hopefully, his toughness will rub off on the rest of the team. Peace!

  5. Should have got rid of ZaZA and kept Udoh imho. Bring him back for a mil a year if you can. He’s a better insurance plan at center than ZaZa. Having him third behind Larry and Henson would at least let us know the rim will be protected. I would have liked to see O’Bryant Ers Udoh Sanders Henson as our bigs, Giannis, Middleton, Inglis and Jabari as our swing men, Let BK/Bayless/Wolters/Marshall/Mayo duke it out for the 2 guard positions with Giannis and Inglis taking up some point/2guard time. Ohwell I’d rather let Henson be our offensive center and have another defensive stopper in Udoh.