This past offseason was quite difficult for the Dallas Mavericks. After courting and successfully wooing DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers, disaster struck. After a change of heart, and a twitter emoji battle, Jordan returned to the Clippers. In response, the Mavs traded a future second pick to Milwaukee to acquire a center, Zaza Pachulia.
Dallas is currently sitting 5th in the West at 21-16, despite Bleacher Report predicting 32 wins and ESPN forecasting 38 wins. The outlook looked bleak after the Jordan fiasco but it appears the Mavs have rebounded nicely. Pachulia has been a revelation for the Mavs. Rick Carlisle, their head coach has said, “He is a lot better than I thought.”
At 6’11” Pachulia a 13-year veteran has always provided good defense, rebounding, and leadership. This season he is averaging a double-double, including a career high in rebounds. Pachulia’s stats this season compared to Jordan’s show that he is providing for the Mavs in different ways.
Jordan is a game changer on the defensive end; his ability to block and alter shots is something Pachulia cannot replicate. However Pachulia is a solid and disciplined defender. He is second on the Mavs in Real Plus Minus (measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions) with 2.6 RPM. In the clip below he battles Anthony Davis in the post. Watch Pachulia push him off the block before he receives the ball. Once the ball is entered Davis settles for a very well contested jump shot.
Although Pachulia is not the high-flying act that Jordan is, he’s a skilled offensive player. He is shooting 46.6% on shots from 4-16 feet, and with his ability to knock down these shots he allows the Mavs to spread the floor to give Nowitzki room to post up. This is room the Mavs would not have if Jordan were on the floor.
In the clip below, notice that when Nowitzki has the ball in the post and the Pelicans double-team him, leaving Pachulia free. Pachulia reacts quickly and runs to the open spot in the paint. Nowitzki makes the pass and Pachulia lays the ball in easily on a critical possession.
Perhaps the most underrated skill Pachulia has is leadership. Along with Jared Dudley he was credited with providing veteran leadership during a surprising Milwaukee Bucks playoff bid last season. After a win over the Los Angeles Lakers early in the season, he wouldn’t let the team enjoy it. Instead he pointed out on how they left Bryant open on a set play late in the game. On a night where he had 18 points and 16 rebounds, he was still focused on what the team can do better to win, that is leadership. Nowitzki has said, “He’s just a veteran that any team needs to have around.”
Pachulia brings more to the table than Jordan, and for $5.2 million and a second round pick he is a bargain. He comes at quarter of the price of Jordan and gives the Mavs flexibility as his contract is set to expire at the end of this season. He provides defense, rebounding, spreads the floor on offense, makes his free throws, and is a leader in the locker room. Pachulia at one point was thought to just be a band-aid to a problem, but very well could be the solution the Mavs have been looking for at the center position.