Where he’s been: One bright spot for last season was the randomly great Zaza Pachulia stretch in the first two weeks of the season.
Larry Sanders was out because of a torn thumb ligament suffered in a nightclub altercation that was clearly instigated by goons hired by cartoon supervillain Dan Gilbert. Pachulia stepped in immediately with 13 points and 11 rebounds against the New York Knicks. Then he had 24 points on 10 shots against the Boston Celtics. Larry who?
But Pachulia wasn’t meant to fill a starter’s role for the Bucks. A bout of tendonitis brought him back to Earth, and then a fractured right foot in early December took him out for two months. Shortly after Pachulia returned, James Harden threw an elbow into Sanders face, knocking him out for the season. Just coming back from a foot injury and thrust back into the starting lineup, Pachulia couldn’t provide the defense Sanders could and absent was the offensive efficiency he had earlier in the season.
Pachulia finished with his worst shooting percentage since his rookie year and his worst total rebounding percentage of his career.
What he does: Pachulia can be very valuable in limited minutes. Last year, he averaged 25 minutes a game which was far more than he or anyone else was expecting. He’s a good offensive big man off the bench with limited minutes. Even though he didn’t show it last year, through his career he’s been a strong scorer and offensive rebounder. Several months removed from his foot problems, he can probably find the scoring touch and physicality that makes him a valuable backup center.
One new wrinkle that Pachulia added last year was pretty adept passing. As he’s gotten older, Pachulia has become a better passer. He’s spent most of his career with an assist rate hovering around six percent. That jumped to ten percent for the 2012-13 season. His assist rate leaped again to 16 percent last season. To put that in context, he assisted on a higher percentage of possessions than potential point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo last season. A passer in the post or the high post would be huge for this team. Without a strong point guard, passing will need to be a team effort.
Where he fits: Jason Kidd knows how to use a scoring center. Before he got injured, Brook Lopez was well on his way to being an all-star. Despite this, Pachulia belongs on the bench. If Pachulia averages more than 20 minutes a game, then the Bucks aren’t getting the reps their young guys need.
He’s best utilized as a locker room leader. At 30, Pachulia has the most experience on the team. On the court, he’s best used to give a Jabari Parker another look. Pachulia will be the worst defender out of the crop of centers that Parker will be working with. What can Parker do as a power forward when he doesn’t have Sanders or John Henson as a safety valve. On offense, where can Parker be to take advantage of Pachulia’s passing?
Everything is about player development for the Bucks. Pachulia’s greatest value is in how he can help spur that development.