Connect with us

NBA

Zaza Pachulia is Perfect for the Warriors

The Warriors’ Big Four will get the attention, but Zaza Pachulia is also very important in Golden State.

Alex Kennedy

Published

on

On paper, the Golden State Warriors are arguably the best NBA team ever assembled.

Stephen Curry is the league’s back-to-back Most Valuable Player and also the first unanimous winner of the award. An argument can also be made that Kevin Durant – the last player to hoist the MVP trophy before Curry – is the game’s best player. All-Star Draymond Green is one of the toughest match-ups in the league due to his versatility, unique skill set and two-way production. All-Star Klay Thompson is the NBA’s second-best shooter (trailing only Curry) and he’s one of the best two-guards in the NBA. Steve Kerr is widely considered one of the league’s best head coaches. Their bench features veterans who would be starting on most teams such as Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West.

However, there’s one player who hasn’t been mentioned here and he’ll very likely be in the starting five for Golden State during the 2016-17 season: Zaza Pachulia.

The 32-year-old is poised to start at center alongside the Warriors’ Big Four and he could emerge as a secret weapon of sorts. Just as he’s done throughout the duration of his 13-year NBA career, he’ll rebound, set screens, make hustle plays, defend the paint (even if he doesn’t block many shots), hold teammates accountable and do the dirty work. He’s a team-first guy who will make sacrifices, play without ego and carry himself as the consummate professional. In other words, he’s exactly what Golden State wants alongside their star-studded core.

“The little things are what get you to the next level,” Pachulia told The Mercury News. “I believe in the little things. The screens you don’t see in the stats, the hockey assists. I’m a big believer in that.

“I’m going into my 13th year and most of the years, I’ve done the same things,” he added. “What this team needs from the big man is obviously setting good screens, making free throws, rebounding, defending, blocking. All the little things, basically; doing the work to help these guys and to help the team win games.”

Pachulia’s consistent production has always seemingly been overlooked, despite the fact that he has been a serviceable big man for years – whether he was starting or coming off of the bench.

Now, he’s coming off of a great year with the Dallas Mavericks in which he averaged 8.6 points and a career-high 9.4 rebounds, while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 76.8 percent from the free throw line. Perhaps most impressive is that Pachulia produced at this high level while playing just 26.4 minutes per game. Even with the limited playing time, he ranked fifth among all NBA players in offensive rebounds (249), 14th in total rebounds (718) and 23rd in double-doubles (26).

Advanced analytics paint Pachulia in a very positive light as well. He posted career-highs in Win Shares (6), Offensive Win Shares (3.4), Value Over Replacement Player (1.7), Box Plus-Minus (1.4) and Total Rebound Percentage (19.7 percent). And because he was so productive in under 27 minutes per game, his per-100-possessions were excellent: 16.5 points, 18.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals.

Pachulia’s first sacrifice came in July, when he opted to sign one of the most surprising contracts of the summer. Despite reportedly garnering a two-year, $20 million offer from the Washington Wizards, Pachulia agreed to a one-year deal worth $2,898,000 with Golden State.

Warriors general manager Bob Myers admitted that he “didn’t really want to call [Zaza’s] agent” because he believed there was no way the big man would be interested. Having worked as an agent prior to becoming an executive, Myers knows firsthand that calling with a low-ball offer can be awkward and sometimes even considered offensive. But rather than scoff, Pachulia agreed to come on board.

The bargain deal would’ve been shocking during any summer, but it was particularly surprising during an offseason in which just about every productive big man inked a lucrative, multi-year deal. However, to Pachulia, money wasn’t the only factor for him as he weighed his options.

“Of course money is important,” Pachulia told The Mercury News. “Very important – important to everybody. If I said it wasn’t, I’d be lying, especially because it’s not like I’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars in my career. [Editor’s note: His NBA contracts have totaled a little over $51 million].

“[I turned down] a pretty significant amount,” he continued. “[I] don’t want to get into the details, but a pretty significant amount. I’ll be a free agent next year, so we’ll see again. But first of all, I’m not thinking about next year. I’m all-in on this year. That’s the reason why I sacrificed financially. It’s not because of next summer. It’s because of this season.”

When Pachulia signed with Golden State, reports surfaced that executives around the NBA were almost as unhappy about the Warriors stealing Pachulia for next to nothing as they were about Durant bolting to the Bay Area. Coach Kerr said essentially the same thing.

“I was almost as happy with Zaza signing as I was with KD, and I mean that,” Kerr told The Mercury News. “You have to have a good solid center in this league and we didn’t have one. We had some guys who could play that role, but a consistent, starting big man is tough to find. And he’s been a pro in this league. He’s been so consistent. He’s a guy who knows how to play – fits our style well.”

Pachulia appreciated his head coach’s remarks and the warm welcome he’s received from the Warriors organization.

“It’s a huge compliment for me; I’m very thankful,” Pachulia said. “When I signed here, I said that I always wanted to play for a team that [wanted me]. That feeling continues. That’s what makes you excited and really makes you want to do anything for this team, because they really need you, they really want you to be here.

“We closed the deal basically after I talked to Coach [Kerr]. He’s a good salesman, good guy. You can tell from interviews what kind of person he is. Trustworthy. Honest. You can tell from his tone, from his manners. After our phone conversation, I knew I wanted to be part of it.”

Like most players who decided to take less money to join Golden State this summer, Pachulia was attracted to the situation because of the realistic title odds and positive atmosphere around the organization. Players from rival teams often comment that the Warriors just look like they’re having so much fun together – on and off the court – and that’s something that free agents certainly consider when making their decision.

For Pachulia, he also knew that there would be plenty of minutes for him since Golden State had to part ways with Andrew Bogut in order to free up the necessary cap space to add Durant.

“I’m excited to be here,” Pachulia said. “To answer your question, obviously I had some options, but knowing my game and what I’m capable of doing and knowing that Andrew left, I thought it was a perfect fit. I think we’re going to complement each other, my game with these guys. So that, and talking to Coach [Kerr], made me convinced that it was the right place for me to come.

“The goal is to win the championship. I’m sure everybody has said the same answer, and I’m no different. And we mean it. It’s going to be a fun year. Of course, we’re going to need some breaks. But we have a good group of guys who are going to work hard on and off the court, who are going to help each other. Our goal is to win the championship.”

Championships aren’t won on paper, but the Warriors certainly strengthened their title hopes when they got Pachulia to put pen to paper in July.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

Published

on

At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

Continue Reading

NBA

Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

Published

on

While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor

James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor

Lang Greene

Published

on

The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.

But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.

All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.

The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.

While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.

Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.

“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.

When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”

Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.

“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”

Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.

The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending Now