It was a bit of a rollercoaster getting there, but our first poll rung true in the end with Zaza Pachulia voted off as 8th among all our qualified candidates for the best Milwaukee Bucks contracts of the last decade. I’m not all that surprised to see the Georgian giant get voted off first, but one of the reasons I thought he merited inclusion was the wealth of distaste for his contract initially. The leading narrative at the time seemed to be that it was a clear overpay (I certainly thought that), but Zaza provided plenty of serviceable minutes over the two years in Milwaukee, and was a central element of the team’s emergence under Jason Kidd’s first year of tutelage.
Zaza’s two years from 2013-2015 were his second stint in Milwaukee, after spending his sophomore season at the Bradley Center where he averaged 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the 2004-05 Bucks. His following eight seasons featured Zaza as the big man of the oft-mentioned Joe Johnson Hawks-era, veterans of middling playoff success. Part of that run included Zaza ousting the Fear the Deer Bucks in 2010, but by 2013 fans had to forgive Pachulia. One intriguing part about Pachulia’s career is his shifting minute total and starter status season by season.
After starting 83% of his games in Atlanta his first two years, he gets supplanted by superior talent in Al Horford, and he goes on to start just 13% of appearances for the next four years. Then, suddenly that number jumps up again in 2011-12 as Al Horford goes down. Eight years into his career, Zaza goes on a streak of being a dependable 25 minute a night fella from 2011-2016 across three different teams (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Dallas). All of this is to say that the increased minute total his final two years in Atlanta may have contributed to the Bucks being willing to toss a few extra dollars towards someone perceived as a clear backup center on a roster already chock-full of big men.
But not if Zaza had anything to say about it. You won’t be surprised to learn he beat out John Henson for a starting spot. He played in just 53 games during the ill-fated 2013-14 season (starting 43 of those games) and averaged 7.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and a career-high 2.6 assists. The final figure is really why Zaza seemed like a value signing to me. Given the dearth of capable offensive creators and the lack of imagination in Milwaukee’s offense at that time, Pachulia gave a little extra grease to the skids as a big man with some level of passing acumen. This post is puts it on a little too strongly, but he could find solid passing lanes from the high post and the elbow.
To further illustrate that point, Pachulia ranked in the 94th percentile (per Cleaning The Glass) among bigs for his assist percentages during his two years in Milwaukee, 16% and 15.6% respectively. Now, if you’re looking for reasons why this wasn’t voted as the best contract, it’s that Pachulia was never any semblance of an offensive force. His effective field goal percentage was 42.7% the first year (the worst figure after his rookie year) and even his second year he was still below his career 46.9% figure. His midrange game, despite it being a staple of his shot diet and the Bucks’ offense, only went in at a 37.4% clip while in Milwaukee. He shot just 49% and 53% at the rim those two years, paltry figure for a big man (around 10th percentile per CTG), but that was one of his biggest issues throughout his career.
His rebounding percentages went down from his usual career numbers in Milwaukee, which seemed to just be a perpetual issue for the franchise for some time. So, he wasn’t a massive asset in that regard, and his PER was around league average both years (14.0 then 15.6). In 2013-14, he was fifth in terms of win shares per 48 (among primary players), but third on the salary ledger. In 2014-15, he was seventh in that metric, but third on the ledger as well, discounting Drew Gooden. And yet, Zaza still seemed like a competent contract; a big who could pass some, do a little dirty work inside, occasionally knock down a midrange jumper even if it was less than we thought, and yet, the on/off metrics were generally in his favor.
In the dregs of 2013-14, he still had a +2.5 on/off net rating differential, and in 2014-15, it was absolutely absurd. The Bucks were +7.5 with him on the court that year (best on the team) and -3.9 with him off. Those are assuredly inflated, but Zaza remained a pivotal fulcrum for that team on both ends of the court as they emerged with a new look and a new budding superstar. Kudos to you Zaza for your true yeoman’s work.
From the Archives
Steve Von Horn expresses his doubts over this contract.
Maybe the Bucks are convinced that Zaza can be a better backup center than Ayon or Udoh could be, but it’s important to remember that Larry Sanders has started to soak up more minutes, John Henson put up some impactful performances as a pseduo-center when Sanders was unavailable, and Udoh and Ayon are on expiring deals. The margin to be gained here is small, while the price to pay is high, because it cuts into future flexiblity and forces the team into a situation where they need to trade another big on the roster.
Brew Hoop Best Contract of the Last Decade Ranking
8. Zaza Pachulia (2013; 3-year, $15.6M)
Given there was a bit of confusion surrounding reading the poll, I am going to revert back to the inverse of how I presented the worst contracts poll. I was hoping to keep it wholly positive, but we’re going to be voting for the WORST contract out of this group of positive ones. In other words, the 7th best contract. No more least best. Let’s give it a go:
What is the WORST contract out of this best bunch?
This poll is closed
2011 Mike Dunleavy (2-year, $7.5M)
2014 Jerryd Bayless (2-year, $6M)
2015 Khris Middleton (5-years, $70M)
2016 Jason Terry (The first time; 1-year, $1.5M)
2016 Giannis Extension (4-years, $100M)
2018 Brook Lopez (1-year, $3.3M)
2018 Pat Connaughton (2-years, $3.3M)
This poll will close at 6 am CST on Monday, June 15.