Zaza Pachulia tasked as being frontcourt mentor

This is the 10th in a 15-part series running Wednesdays and Fridays profiling each Milwaukee Bucks player leading up to the start of the NBA season.

The last time Zaza Pachulia called Milwaukee home he was just 20 years old, wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids. Nine years later, Pachulia is back with the Bucks not only as a different player but also as a matured man.

Pachulia realized how much has changed in his life during a recent drive around the city, as he now serves as a tour guide for his wife and kids. To him, Milwaukee hasn’t changed much and that’s part of the reason why he was drawn back to the Bucks.

Traded to the Bucks after being selected by Charlotte in the expansion draft, Pachulia averaged 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Bucks in the 2004-05 season. The Bucks chose not to match a four-year, $16 million offer sheet Pachulia signed with Atlanta in the summer of 2005, opting to give Dan Gadzuric a multiyear deal instead.

While his NBA career began with a one-year stint in Orlando, Pachulia considers Milwaukee as where things really got going. Even though he’s just 29 years old, Pachulia is now the veteran of the Bucks’ frontline. He’s tasked with mentoring the young big men, but also will bring some strength and toughness to the frontcourt.

2012-13 stats: 5.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.2 BPG,  47.4 FG %, 75.7 FT % in 52 games with Atlanta.

2013-14 salary: $5,200,000

Last year: Pachulia filled a valuable role for the Hawks last season, putting up his usual statline. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he’s as solid as reserve centers come.

Though he started 15 games when Al Horford was injured, Pachulia was Larry Drew’s first big man off the bench for the majority of the year. Pachulia is not a big scorer and not the best shooter for a big man, but he’ll get his points on putbacks and dunks off of offensive rebounds.

Pachulia was limited to just 52 games last season due to a right Achilles injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. He suffered the injury Jan. 21 and tried to play through the pain before shutting things down in early March. Pachulia underwent successful surgery in April, but has found the recovery to be long and frustrating.

Atlanta missed Pachulia down the stretch and in the playoffs, as the Hawks were left with Johan Petro as their top reserve big man. 

This year: On a team with 11 new faces trying to learn Drew’s system, Pachulia will be very valuable to Milwaukee’s new coach. Drew was with the Hawks for each of the eight seasons Pachulia spent in Atlanta, the last three as head coach.

Though he has missed all of training camp thus far, Pachulia had been another coach during practice as he knows Drew’s system better than a couple of the new assistant coaches. There’s no timetable for Pachulia’s return, but he took a big step Thursday by playing a one-on-one against assistant coach Scott Williams.

Pachulia has the season opener circled on his calendar, but he could return late in the preseason. The bursitis caused by the surgery is no longer bothering him and the Achilles isn’t causing him pain which is a good sign.

The role a healthy Pachulia will fill with the Bucks won’t look much different than the one he’s filled for most of his career with the Hawks. Drew knows Pachulia well and will likely use him as the primary backup center. Minutes aren’t guaranteed with a crowded frontcourt consisting of Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh and Miroslav Raduljica, but Pachulia brings bulk and toughness the Bucks need.  

From the front office: “Zaza and I have been together for (eight) years. Zaza is familiar with some of the things I do. I’ll definitely be pulling his coattails to help some of his teammates out with some of the play sets and some of the defensive calls.” — Bucks coach Larry Drew

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