When the Dallas Mavericks sent a future second round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Zaza Pachulia, it was seen as a last-ditch effort to find someone remotely capable of starting at center. The Georgian native, entering the final year of a three-year, $15.6-million contract, had spent the past two seasons of his 12-year career with the Bucks as a backup center and decent role player.
Adding a damper to the acquisition was the fact that Pachulia had never been an incredible rebounder, averaging about six-and-a-half rebounds in his two seasons with Milwaukee, while seeing about 24 minutes per game. To compare, Tyson Chandler averaged eleven and a half rebounds in 30 minutes per game with the Mavs in 2014-15. Seeing how Dallas was still one of the worst rebounding teams in the league with Chandler holding down the middle, it was anticipated that Dallas would be an abysmal rebounding team this season.
That has been so far from the truth. Sure, part of the reason for Dallas' rebounding success lands at the feet of Dwight Powell and his emergence as a legitimate backup for Dirk has brought relief to the Mavs rebounding woes, averaging 8.1 rebounds a game. Dirk has also seen an uptick in 2015, as he's currently rebounding at a 7 boards/game clip.
But so much credit goes to Pachulia, the starter in the middle. Pachulia is pulling down almost ten rebounds per game through the season's first 12 games. About 45 percent of his rebounds fall under the "contested"1 category. To compare, just 31.7 percent of Tyson Chandler's rebounds this year have been contested, and just 31.0 percent of DeAndre Jordan's are contested. This could mean, for one, that other players instinctively shy away from Chandler and Jordan when they go up for a rebound. However, I think it means something else. Pachulia is battling. He's going after rebounds in a crowd and he's coming away with them.
And it's led to his 9.8 rebounds per game to begin the season, almost two rebounds more than his highest average for a season (7.9) since he's been in the league. His 12 rebounds against Boston marked the seventh time in the first 12 games that he's pulled down double-digit rebounds. Last season with Milwaukee he recorded 15 double-digit rebounding efforts for the entire season!
It'd be enough if Pachulia had come in here as a backup plan and just pulled down rebounds, but he's doing more than that. He's scoring, passing and generally fitting in well in every facet of the Mavericks' game plan. Pachulia is shooting 46.1 percent from the floor -- raising it from an inefficient start to the year. He's averaging 10.3 points per game on the season and close to two assists per game (1.8), and is plus-26 over the Mavs' five game winning streak.
Is there potential for Pachulia to regress to his mean? Absolutely. Is it going to happen? Possibly. But there's also the possibility that Pachulia fits his role in Dallas better than anything he's had previously. And for that, we should enjoy that we've got him here, and stop calling him our backup plan to DeAndre. As Rick Carlisle subtly jabbed after the Mavericks' win against Los Angeles last week, "our center is shooting 90 percent on his free throws ... and we love him." In that regard, Pachulia is doing things that Jordan couldn't even dream of.
And for that, we love him.
1 A "contested" rebound is any rebound with an opponent less than 3.5 feet away