After becoming Kevin Durant’s chosen one, the Golden State Warriors quickly traded away Andrew Bogut to the Dallas Mavericks for a future second round pick to clear cap space before signing Zaza Pachulia to a one-year, $2.9 million deal.
Pachulia coincidentally started 69 games last season for the Mavericks, averaging 8.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and just 0.3 blocks in 26.4 minutes per game. Pachulia had a PER of 17.7 in November and 18.3 in December before tailing off as the season continued.
Pachulia is an effective screener and has been one of the NBA’s most underrated passing big men for years. Pachulia has had a particularly high assist rate over the past four seasons, especially in the middle two seasons with the Bucks. The Warriors run a lot of horns sets, which suits his game perfectly. Pachulia's passing and mid-range shooting will be more than enough to not be a drag on the offense.
Bogut was a great passer and screener for the Warriors and Pachulia will resemble him in a lot of the same ways, though with fewer rim runs and more shooting. The Warriors could still use a finisher at the rim to take advantage of all of that spacing, and Damian Jones can clearly be that player off the bench if he quickly picks up their concepts in camp.
Even though Pachulia offers no rim protection for a center, he ranked 12th in the NBA in Rebound Rate and plays smart defense. The defensive impact of Bogut was taken for granted in some circles since the Death Lineup was such a unique all-around monster.
The Mavericks were 2.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Pachulia on the floor. Golden State fell to seventh this past season in defense and there was a concern another drop was inevitable losing Bogut, but Pachulia should allow them to remain in the same strata. Durant's commitment to defense with the Warriors is the biggest variable since he's capable of rim protection and just being better all-around on that end of the floor than Harrison Barnes.
The first name to emerge for the Warriors at center after the Durant announcement was Jermaine O’Neal, who played quality minutes for them two years ago but has been semi-retired since then. The fear was they would not be able to find quality big man minutes with how much money was available. The decision appeared to come down to Pachulia and Dewayne Dedmon, who is now what the Warriors hope Jones eventually becomes. The Warriors clearly have better cover with Pachulia instead of Dedmon.
Golden State rescinded their qualifying offer to Festus Ezeli, who Steve Kerr could never consistently trust on the floor and Bob Myers couldn’t trust to stay on it. Ezeli played stretches of such encouraging basketball with his rim protection, rebounding and finishing at the rim, but he was far too risky of a proposition on a multi-year deal, especially with the Warriors needing cap space in 2017 to accommodate Durant’s supermax.
The Warriors’ center rotation of Pachulia and Jones won’t be quite as effective as Bogut and Ezeli, but it will come at a fraction of the cost. Golden State needed a reliable center to protect Draymond Green from logging too many minutes there and Pachulia exceeds the expectation of the caliber of player they would be able to afford, which is always how title contenders get even more separation from the also-rans.
Grade for Warriors: A
Pachulia certainly had more appealing financial offers on the open market, but he’ll certainly start at center and play meaningful minutes deep into the playoffs with the Warriors. Pachulia never received a huge contract despite playing in more than 21 minutes per game throughout his career, but he’s now over $50 million in total earnings. In the Dunc'd On mock offseason, Pachulia ended up with a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Pacers.
Grade for Zaza Pachulia: A