2018-19 Pistons Profile: Zaza Pachulia
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After failing to make the playoffs last season, Pistons owner Tom Gores made the call to change course. Ed Stefanski was hired to run the front office and his first big move was to hire Dwane Casey, reigning NBA Coach of the Year. The roster is set, a new coaching staff and front office is in place and training camp is around the corner. In the days leading up to its opening we’ll look at each player on the roster and assess how he fits into the puzzle for the 2018-19 season. Today: Zaza Pachulia. Monday: Andre Drummond.
ID card:34 years old, entering 16th season, 6-foot-11, center
Last year in review: Pachulia started 57 games for Golden State as the Warriors won their third NBA title over the past four seasons, though his 14.1 minutes played per game was third-lowest of his 15-year career. Pachulia, as he’s exhibited throughout his career, stayed within his lane for the Warriors – setting hard screens, rebounding, scoring around the rim efficiently, making his free throws and limiting his mistakes. Pachulia’s role was reduced at the All-Star break when the Warriors – reportedly based on analytic input from Sammy Gelfand, who this summer left Golden State to join the Pistons – swapped out Pachulia for JaVale McGee in the starting lineup based on data that showed the Warriors had slipped defensively from the previous season with Pachulia at center. Pachulia’s per-36 minute numbers last season were 13.8 points and 11.9 rebounds. He shot 56 percent and made 80 percent of his free throws.
Career at a glance: Pachulia, who ranks 16th among active NBA players with 1,030 games played, came to the NBA as a 19-year-old from his native Georgia after being drafted 42nd overall by Orlando. He became a rotational player as a rookie for the Magic and a full-time starter with Atlanta in his third season as a 21-year-old. Pachulia spent eight seasons with the Hawks after single seasons in Orlando and Milwaukee, followed by two more years in Milwaukee, one in Dallas and the past two in Golden State. Pachulia has started almost exactly half (513) of his NBA games and has averaged 21 minutes a game for his career. His career average of 5.2 shot attempts per game underscores his acceptance of a complementary role. Pachulia’s career scoring high of 12.2 points per game came 12 seasons ago in Atlanta. He remains an effective rebounder, reaching his career high of 9.4 just three seasons ago with Dallas.
Anticipated role: The Pistons, in lockstep with an NBA trend, will carry only two true centers this season, Pachulia and Andre Drummond. It’s not a given that Pachulia will get backup center minutes, given the ability of both Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson to play center – and, indeed, Blake Griffin could also see minutes at center. But Pachulia’s strength, recent record of productivity and proven durability give Dwane Casey the security of knowing he can still function as the everyday backup center if that proves the best course of action for the Pistons. Pachulia also comes to Detroit with a sterling reputation as a teammate, which means Casey won’t have to worry about Pachulia making waves if the decision is made to use him less than every game as Drummond’s backup.
It will be a good season if... : Pachulia remains what he’s been for the entirety of his NBA career: reliable in every way. The Pistons could have rolled with young veteran Eric Moreland in the backup role after he flashed defensive skills and promising passing and ballhandling traits in his first real shot in the NBA last season, but opted instead for the surer thing in Pachulia. He’ll bring an element of toughness, leadership and abject professionalism to a team that sees itself as poised to break through in the East and not only make the playoffs but be in position to compete with the leaders in the conference.