Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler… and now Zaza Pachulia.
At one point or another each of these players has been thrown into the conversation as the best center in Dallas Mavericks history, despite being such wide-ranging, eclectic group.
Make no mistake, we all know fan favorite Tyson Chandler is hands down the greatest center in franchise history (because as in true Jason Pitts-form “he brought this city a championship!”). However, with a total of 12 double-doubles just 19 games into his tenure as a Maverick, Pachulia is already making a strong case to be considered in this conversation.
Pachuila, now 31 years-old and in his 13th season in the league, is even being rated as one of the best centers in the NBA. According to ESPN’s New Real Plus Minus (RPM) ratings, Pachulia currently ranks fourth among centers with a rating of 3.88, behind only Tim Duncan, “The Reneged One” and Mason Plumlee.
Per ESPN.com, the RPM rating shares a “family resemblance” with the plus/minus stat in the box score, which registers the net change in score while each player is on the court, but this also takes into who that player is sharing the court with. Sure, that’s just one statistical rating using mathematical equations that we’ll never truly understand, but it does provide objective evidence for how well Pachulia has performed this season.
Following the well-known disaster that was DeAndre Jordan’s Indecision this summer, the Mavs acquired Pachulia in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for what ended up being nothing. And, he wasn’t even the team’s backup plan. Not even Plan C or D. He was Plan: We Just Need Somebody. Anybody. And no that’s not a knock on Pachulia, it was simply the situation Jordan put the Mavs in.
Today, it’s funny to even think that at one point the Mavs considered giving DeAndre Freakin’ Jordan $80 million and wanted to him to be the cornerstone of the franchise. That’s $80 million, cold hard cash! A far cry for a guy that lacks the integrity to even call back someone and let them know he’s changed his mind. Not to mention the dude cannot make a free throw (37% this season) to save his life, which was one of the bigger criticisms of the so-called “experts” when discussing the Mavs thinking to give max money to a player who would most likely be on the bench at the end of close game due to his inability to execute on one of the easiest shots in professional basketball. For the Mavs, Pachulia has converted 78 percent of the 108 free throw he’s attempted thus far this season.
This season, in the first three quarters of the game, Jordan has a plus-minus rating of 4.3, but once the fourth quarter hits, Jordan has a plus-minus rating of -1.9 while shooting just 44.3 percent from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter, Pachulia has a plus-minus rating of 0.1 and has converted 67 percent of his free throws in the fourth quarter.
Looking back now, maybe Jordan’s last-minute decision to re-join the Clippers ended up being the best thing for the Mavs. In Pachulia, they ended up with a center that is averaging 11.1 points and a career-high 10.2 rebounds on 48% shooting while playing 28.7 minutes per night, having one of his best seasons as a pro.
Prior to coming to the Mavs, Pachulia’s best season came during his 2005-06 campaign with the Atlanta Hawks when he started all 78 games of the games he played, delivering a career-high 31.4 minutes per night, 21 double-doubles and averaging 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds.
So what’s different nearly a decade later that has Pachulia playing so great as the starting center for the Mavs?
As a career backup, Pachulia has only started at center 40 percent of the games he’s played. In his 12 seasons prior to coming to the Mavs, Pachulia has started more than 60 percent of the games he’s played in a season only five times and of those five times, Pachulia was never been with a team that has had more than 34 wins. In fact, in those five seasons, split between the Bucks and the Hawks, his team had a winning percentage of just 32 percent (130 wins, 280 losses). The best stretch of his career on a former team was from 2008 to 2011 with the Hawks, when they won 56 percent of their games (138 wins, 108 losses); but Pachulia was the backup center, only starting 44 out those 246 games.
Essentially, Pachulia has never been given the opportunity to be a starting center with a team as good as the Mavs. As with any player, from Monta Ellis to Jason Terry to Tyson Chandler playing alongside a living legend [Dirk Nowitzki] for a future Hall of Fame coach [Rick Carlisle] just makes it easier to be successful, something Pachulia has never really had in his career. And with the 11-8 Dallas Mavericks, Pachulia is finally getting that opportunity and he’s taking full advantage of it.
November 11, 2015:
Mavericks vs Jazz
Zaza Pachulia 15 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists