This is the 12th profile in a 15-part series running Wednesdays and Fridays profiling each Milwaukee Bucks player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
At 30 years old, Zaza Pachulia is the oldest player on the Milwaukee Bucks. Entering his 12th season in the NBA, he also carries the most experience of anyone on the roster.
Pachulia, who was signed by the Bucks to provide a physical presence off the bench, ended up playing a bigger role than anticipated due to injuries at the center position. After a big summer playing for his home country of Georgia, Pachulia should return to the reserve role he is better suited to fill.
2013-14 stats: 7.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 42.7 FG %, 84.6 FT % over 25.0 MPG in 53 games
2014-15 salary: $5,200,000
Last year: Pachulia was quickly thrown into the starting lineup when Larry Sanders suffered a torn thumb ligament in an altercation at a local nightclub.
After missing most of training camp and the preseason while still recovering from surgery to repair a right Achilles tendon injury suffered in April of 2013, Pachulia started 11 of the 14 November games he played in, averaging 6.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game.
Suffering from tendonitis in his Achilles at the time, Pachulia fractured his right foot on Dec. 4. He didn’t return to the court until Feb. 1, playing limited minutes in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. As Pachulia was working his way back, Sanders suffered a season-ending injury when an inadvertent elbow from Rockets guard James Harden fractured his orbital bone.
With Sanders out, Pachulia ended up starting Milwaukee’s final 32 games. He finished with his lowest shooting percentage (42.7) since his rookie season, while his usage percentage was at its highest rate in six years.
Pachulia couldn’t provide the Bucks with the same level of defense and rim protection Sanders would have, but that wasn’t the fault of the earth-bound center. He was signed to be a backup and ended up playing a much bigger role than anyone could have anticipated.
This year: One of the reasons Pachulia signed with the Bucks was his relationship with former coach Larry Drew. Drew helped recruit Pachulia to Milwaukee after the two were together for eight seasons in Atlanta.
Pachulia should return to a backup role this season, as Sanders is healthy again and John Henson can also play center. Against teams with a big front line, Pachulia’s physical presence will likely be needed, but he won’t protect the rim or block shots like Sanders and Henson.
Jason Kidd’s offense gives big men plenty of opportunities to make plays out of the post, a specialty of Pachulia. He’s one of the better passing big men in the league and may be a good fit for the new system.
Pachulia spent his summer helping his home country of Georgia to qualify for the European Championships in 2015. Georgia went 4-2 to win its pool, finishing ahead of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Portugal.
The only NBA player on the roster, Pachulia averaged 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds over the six games.
Pachulia is one of the higher-paid backup centers in the league, as he’s owed $10.4 million over the next two seasons. He’s also one of the more useful backup big men in the NBA when used properly. Pachulia brings valuable leadership to the locker room and should help a young team in that regard. He understands the direction the Bucks are going and knows it could impact his playing time, but Pachulia wants to play a part in the franchise turning around.
"I’m still part of the team and I’m going to compete. I’m going to try to get better, just like they are. That’s how I approach it. My job is to help these guys." — Pachulia on his role with the Bucks