Zaza Pachulia's energy off the bench is something coach Larry Drew relies on. Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBA/Getty Images
Whatever you need, coach
By Jon Cooper
Zaza Pachulia is what's commonly referred to in basketball circles as an energy guy. Whether he's in the starting five or the sixth, maybe even seventh man, Zaza on the floor, and he'll bring energy and effort.
Those are two things you can't necessarily gauge in numbers.
Which is a shame, especially for Pachulia, who admits he's "a big fan of stats."
It's not a shame for Hawks Head Coach Larry Drew, who is glad to have the 6'11", 275-pound center at his beck and call, be it starting or coming off the bench.
"I don't really see a difference," Drew said. "Zaza, first of all, is a pro. Zaza is going to do whatever it takes to be ready, whether he starts or whether he comes in off the bench. A real pro, that's his approach. Zaza's been in a situation where he has been a starter or he has been a guy who's come off the bench. I can see that he's comfortable with both roles. He just does whatever I ask him to do. If I need him as a starter he's always ready. If I need him coming off the bench, when he gets in the game he's ready."
While when he plays can be subject to change, how he plays is not, and that's far more important to the 28-year-old center. When you've been around the League for 10 seasons — eight in Atlanta — minutes are minutes, and every minute you're on the floor requires doing something positive. Of course, that mentality and ability to adapt helps explain why he is indeed in his 10th year and eighth with the Hawks.
"I'm glad I've been on this team for a couple of years now, and I've seen the different lineups," Pachulia, who is second in seniority on the Hawks to only Josh Smith, said. "I've played in different lineups. When I first signed I was a full-time starter. They ended up moving me to the bench. Last year I was starting again. So I have experience with both. I know the guys. I've played with guys a lot, so it's okay for me. If I was new on this team, probably I would be struggling, but I'm lucky that I've been with this team for four years now. So it definitely makes it easier for me."
Pachulia makes things easier for everybody by making things hard for opponents and himself. He never takes the easy way out. He does the dirty work. He's the guy that, when there is a scrum on the floor, usually is the one in the Atlanta uniform tangled up with the opposing player.
In his seven-plus seasons in Atlanta, Pachulia has made his biggest impact on the glass. He leads all non-starters in total rebounds, defensive rebounds and offensive rebounds, is behind only Al Horford and Smith in total and defensive boards and trails only Horford in offensive rebounds.
In what might be the dirtiest of the dirty work, offensive rebounding, 'Z' has worked his way into the Hawks record books. This season alone he has not only cracked the top 10 in the category, but moved past Alan Henderson for ninth place, passed Cliff Levingston for eighth, and has Dikembe Mutombo and seventh place in his sights.
Fittingly, the rebounds that moved him past Levingston came on one possession, a six-second span of the third quarter of the Dec. 19 loss to Oklahoma City when he earned three offensive boards. The series started with 2:30 left when he missed a layup. He grabbed the rebound, but missed his putback attempt. Undeterred, he grabbed the rebound of that missed shot and went back up. That attempt didn't go, but he stayed with it, finally tapping the ball in.
That effort came with Hawks trailing by 15.
Hitting the boards, regardless of the score, is something Pachulia recognizes as a key to the team's success.
"When we out-rebound teams and dominate the paint, there is a huge percentage of us winning the game," he said. "Stats don't lie."
Stats also call Pachulia one of the best free-throw shooters amongst Hawks bigs, a good thing as he's one of the team's leaders in free throws attempted. Put it all together and it's easy to see how easy it is for Drew to call on Pachulia.
He'll always have a pretty good idea of what he's going to get from Pachulia, even though he's not quite sure how it's going to look.
"Sometimes he gets in and gets off to a little slow start, but he normally picks it up. As a pro, which he is, he's always ready," Drew said. "That's just one of the beauties about having a guy like him. He doesn't complain. He doesn't gripe. All he does is just be Zaza. When he gets in a game he's going to throw his body around, it's not going to be pretty at times," he added with a laugh. "But he knows what I want from him, he just gets in there and gets the job done."
Pachulia's ability to get the job done makes Drew happy. Seeing his teammates following suit makes Pachulia happy and bodes well for the rest of the season.
"I'm a role player, and I like to see the guys play their roles and do a good job and bring something to the table," he said. "It's good to see. It's so much fun to play in this kind of situation. Everybody is on the same page, and we want to win and we're enjoying playing together. That's beautiful."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta
Second photo by Rob Carr/NBAE/Getty Images