In last year’s 2016-2017 season, Zaza Pachulia was a crucial part of the Golden State Warriors’ championship rotation.
Signed on a discount, he provided steady minutes at center throughout his first season as a Warrior. His smart defense, solid rebounding, and good positioning certainly quelled any concerns about rim protection the Warriors may have had.
Although he started, Pachulia did not have a large role. He mostly soaked up brutal minutes at center during the first and third quarters, allowing Draymond Green to save his energy. The Warriors’ best lineups feature Green at center, when they have the speed and spacing to completely overwhelm opposing defenses. Yet for the entirety of the 2017 postseason, Pachulia was a valuable center for the Warriors, playing decent minutes against all of their opponents.
Pachulia’s second season with the Warriors was not nearly as successful. The Warriors struggled in the first quarter with him on the court all season long, never mustering the same speed or energy at the beginning of games as they did in years previous. Coach Steve Kerr took Pachulia out of the starting lineup after the All-Star Break, inserting JaVale McGee in his place. Throughout the rest of the regular season, Pachulia played limited minutes as a backup, and in the playoffs, Pachulia didn’t see one minute in the regular rotation.
Pachulia wasn’t playing much worse than he did in the previous season: his per-minute averages were actually all up from last year, save for his blocks per game. His stout defensive interior game held up, and his passing and free-throw shooting were still valuable.
But he was just too slow to be consistently effective for a Warriors team aiming for a title. Pachulia was never very athletic, and given his age, he’s become even more flat-footed and clumsy, sometimes posing an injury risk to teammates and opponents alike. He struggled finishing at the rim, defending in space, and running the floor. These problems were compounded by the other Warriors not playing at full capacity for much of the regular season. The other centers simply brought more to the table: JaVale McGee brought the energy, Kevon Looney brought the switching ability, Jordan Bell brought the defensive intensity, and David West brought the offensive playmaking. Pachulia was the odd center out.
The Warriors rely on pace, spacing, and athleticism on both ends, and by the end of the season, Pachulia could not offer any of that. At this point, the league has simply moved away from him, just like it has for so many other big men. The athleticism necessary for defensive schemes that switch, vertical spacing on offense, and pace in transition leaves many behind in the dust.
Pachulia dealt with his demotion gracefully and even helped out the young big men in their new roles. He now moves on to the Detroit Pistons and can leave the Warriors knowing that he was part of a championship effort. He always tried his best on the Warriors and was a great teammate and funny dude.
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