Previously: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby, Acie Law IV
Depending on how valuable you feel signing Stephen Jackson, getting one good year out of him then trading him straight up for Al Harrington was, Zaza Pachulia stands as either the best or second-best (Readers are likely all too aware that there is no third choice for this title.) free agent signing of the Billy Knight era. Not that Zaza has become a fan favorite simply for not being Jason Collier, Esteban Batista, Lorenzen Wright, or Speedy Claxton. I've no doubt more people took note of his productive play than his reasonable contract, though the latter didn't hurt nor did his clear disdain for favorite fan target, Head Coach Mike Woodson.
Pachulia largely escaped criticism last season which was largely fair. He was hurt. His absence was obvious but he wasn't very good even when he played. Limited to 943 minutes last year, Pachulia was far less effective than expected: attempting fewer shots while making a lower percentage of them, matching that diabolical double (fewer attempts/lower percentage) in terms of free throws, not lowering his turnover rate, grabbing fewer offensive rebounds, and appearing even more limited than usual defensively. I believe it's fair to speculate that the drop from getting 2000+ above-average minutes out of Pachulia to getting less than 1000 poor minutes from him cost the Hawks 1 or 2 wins last season even before considering who (Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Solomon Jones) picked up some of those lost minutes*.
*Josh Smith (possibly) and Al Horford (almost certainly) picked up some extra playing time in Pachulia's absence so 1 or 2 wins may well be the extent of the damage.
A return to the form (if not the volume of minutes played) displayed during his first two seasons with the Hawks falls quite heavily on the reasons-to-be-optimistic side of the 2008-09 expectations scale. A healthy Pachulia would help in the half court offense (both by scoring efficiently and as an offensive rebounder), provide the opportunity to play Al Horford at the 4 should matchups necessitate doing so, and allow Randolph Morris to be brought along slowly in the wake of his wasted 16 months with the Knicks.
On the other hand, even having access to a healthy, productive Pachulia for 15-18 minutes a night likely won't be enough to keep the Hawks in the playoff hunt past the All-Star break at which point his reasonable, expiring contract and ability to be a useful role player will quite possibly make him a desired piece for inclusion in a trade wherein Rick Sund gets someone to take on the remainder of Mike Bibby's contract. Or Marvin Williams' contract. Or, if the right offer were made, Joe Johnson's contract.
Zaza may not be long for Atlanta but I'd like to see him go out on a high, healthy note and solidify his time here as having been mutually beneficial. And, hey, there's no law against trading a guy at the deadline and then re-signing him once he's officially a free agent.
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