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Zaza Speaks, Part 2: Running the offense, fancy passes, hard screens

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Part 2 of an exclusive interview with Zaza Pachulia. He covers a range of topics including running the Warriors’ offense, fancy passes, and the art of hard screens.

“In short, nothing easy, my friends, nothing easy...”
AP Images for Footlocker

In Part 1 of GSoM’s exclusive interview with Zaza Pachulia at a Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco event, he covered his own role models and mentoring Jordan Bell and Damian Jones (including his veteran tip for dealing with referees). Part 2 continues the conversation with Pachulia discussing the Warriors’ offense, his fancy between the legs passes, and the art of hard screens with GSoM’s own Apricot.

For more context, please check out Part 1. For Pachulia’s thoughts about his role in the Warriors’ offense, read on.

Zaza speaks, Part 2

Eric Apricot: You're trusted to pass the ball out of the post while everyone cuts. Are these usually set plays or do you improvise? Do you know who you're going to pass to when the play starts? Or do you just make the read?

Zaza Pachulia: Honestly, what makes this team special is that we have sets, but we don't have any sets. You know? We just play basketball. So, we have situations, we have themes, we have strategies, right? So we know what to expect from each individual player.

It's a compliment for me when I catch the ball, the guys are cutting because they know I'm willing to find the open guy and make the right decision. It's a huge compliment for me, honestly.

KYP. Know Your Personnel. That's what makes this team special when everyone brings something different to the table, and we all contribute and help each other to succeed and make it easier for each other.

EA: Do you ever come out of a timeout and Coach Kerr will say “Hey Zaza, you'll get it at the elbow, and make sure you get it to Nick”? Or is it always up to you?

ZP: It's a read. Coaches definitely trust you, and trust everybody on the court to make the read, because you can't predict this is going to happen. You can read the game, you can read the possession, but you can't come to the game just thinking about, okay, I'm going to score just from the outside. You've got to read the defense and what they give you, and you have so many options.

Not only Nick, but the other side you got Steph, KD, wherever you pass you won't make the wrong move as long as you make the right play. I mean, you pass to a guy is who is going to either finish it, or it's going to lead to a pass that's going to lead to another great shot. It's all about reading.

You know, this game became so fast, and you have to really think the game, you have to think on the court, and you have to make quick decisions. Because guys are getting fast, and the pace is increasing, throughout the league, so it's just crucial to make right decisions.

EA: I've noticed that you've been passing the ball between your legs a lot this year. Is that something you're doing just for the joy of it, or is there a basketball reason? What do the coaches think?

ZP: The true basketball reason, honestly, is I find it easier to release the ball a little earlier, and then I have time to set a good screen on my guy, you know whoever my guy is coming off.

So, at the same time, fans like it. [laughs] I don't know. People like it, and they'll put it on social media. But I'm not trying to be fancy or anything. I'm trying to stay disciplined and be who I am and play this game the right way. So, who cares how you pass it between your legs, the handoff, or overhead. As long as the ball gets delivered to the right guy at the right place and it leads to an easy shot.

That's what it's about. It looks fancy out there, because not everyone is doing it, but for me I'm just happy to get my guy open with a wide open shot.

EA: One of the things you are outstanding at is setting hard screens. Are you giving your rookies tips about doing that?

ZP: Yeah, it's a great question, Eric.

Your first time coming into the league, everybody struggles setting screens, sometimes getting over-excited, and often times it's an offensive foul. It's important to know the techniques. It's important to know the angles and it's about the repetition, and it's about reading the possession.

It's very important to see how your teammate is coming off the screen, who's low, who's back, is the defender chasing, different aspects. It's not one certain thing, it's multiple, but once you know and once you read it and when you exercise it, it is so much fun!

Because it's going to lead to an easy shot for your teammate, or you're going to get open. Most of time you're getting open, because we got so many great shooters in this league today. Your man is helping them, and then you're rolling, and wide-open. It's a process and its fundamentals.

Thank you for your time, and have fun with the kids!


Final Thoughts

Pachulia was generous with his time, and he is a very friendly interviewee. He will take your question and comes up with numerous ideas. He was never dismissive, and in fact, he gave the impression he could have spoken for an hour on his theory of knocking someone down with a good hard screen. Sadly, the interview had to end so that he could play with the kids.

But here’s a bonus picture of Pachulia handing over the big check.

Zaza hands over a big check. Literally.
AP Images for Footlocker

Many thanks again to Pachulia and the organizers for the opportunity to chat with him.