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What’s up with Zaza Pachulia?

The Warriors’ starting center has gone through his shares of ups and downs during the season so far. Where does he need to improve?

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Last year, Zaza Pachulia was exactly what the Warriors hoped: a solid center who fits in the Warriors system. He brought solid defense, rebounding, and free shooting as a starter, and played well with the Warriors’ stars. He was useful all the way until the Finals, when the game simply became too fast-paced and athletic for him.

The Warriors would love for Pachulia to sustain his play at the same level as last year. But at thirty-three years of age, Pachulia is already declining physically. The Warriors need for him to soak regular season minutes and be useful against most teams in the league.

The first few games of the year were not kind at all to Zaza Pachulia. Against the Rockets, Pelicans, and Grizzlies, he was simply outmatched athletically. Although he’s improved his play in the last few games, he’s still not having the best of seasons. He’s averaging the fewest minutes per game in any season since 2009.

Offensively, Pachulia has been having a bad year. He’s shooting more often than last year, but shooting 50% from the field, down from last year’s 53%. He’s got to the free throw line less and racked up fewer assists. Most worryingly, his turnover rate is 28%: he’s turning over the ball more than once every four possessions.

This is far too large an offensive role for Zaza. He should be shooting and handling the ball far less. This is on coaching for not trying to hard to get Pachulia “involved in the offense” instead of letting him get his looks organically.

On the defensive side of the ball, Pachulia’s statistics judge him better than the eye test. We’ve seen him struggle, and he certainly has room to improve, but the Warriors can live with what he’s given. He’s rebounding quite a bit better on that end, and the Warriors’ defensive rating with him on the floor, 101.5, is fine.

With David West, Jordan Bell, and JaVale McGee on the bench, the Warriors have other options at center. Zaza won’t work against every matchup, but he should be valuable against most teams in the league. If that doesn’t work, it might be time to get Jordan Bell up to speed.

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