"You gotta spend money to make money."
This offseason, Warriors general manager Bob Myers took this quote to heart when he signed Zaza Pachulia to a 1 year, $2.8 million dollar deal. Myers spent money (sending Andrew Bogut to the Mavericks to free up cap space for KD before signing Pachulia) in order to make money (possibly winning another championship for the Bay). And after only three games, it seems that Myers' big bet might actually payoff...big time.
Zaza Pachulia is not Andrew Bogut, we can all understand that. One is from Eurasia while one is from Australia. One is passive on social media while one is bold enough to take on the entire country of Brazil. But the big difference between the two centers is that one is a shot blocker while one is not. Bogut has averaged 1.6 blocks per game over his 12-year career while Pachulia has only averaged 0.6 blocks throughout his 14-year career. This fact was immediately magnified when the Warriors went and signed Durant. Golden State would be sacrificing a lot on defense in order to upgrade their already stacked offensive arsenal. There was no way that Pachulia could live up to what Bogut meant to the Warriors' interior defense. Even with a star like KD on the team, the rim would be so wide open for opponents that Durant's offense could never outweigh Golden State's defensive hole in the middle.
Over the first three games of this season, Pachulia has zero blocks while David West has managed only one. You may be looking at that stat and agree with the naysayers. But blocking shots isn't what defense is about. If you only read box scores, then that opinion may be valid but the most important plays in a game don't show up on the stat sheet: screens, box-outs, contested shots, these are the things that ultimately win you ball games.
Ronaldinho from SB Nation's Golden State of Mind highlighted three plays from the Suns-Warriors game on 10/30 that prove that the Warriors' lack of rim protection isn't a big deal. Basically, what Pachulia and West lack in rim protection, they make up for in quickness and high basketball IQs. Bogut was always too slow to guard players out on the perimeter and point guards like Damian Lilliard and Chris Paul would salivate when Bogut would switch onto them. Now Pachulia isn't that much quicker with his feet than Bogut but he's just quick enough to stay in front of those players to contest and bother their shots. Pachulia may not get the block in the stat sheet but just his presence alone can be considered a block when the shot clanks off the rim.
Which would you rather give up, a 15-foot shot or a 3-foot shot? Statistics show that the 15 footer is the harder shot, even when wide open, because it's farther away from the basket. With Bogut on your team, a faster player could make a move on the perimeter and drive right by Bogut to the rim. Bogut has the potential to block that shot but the NBA is full of crafty players and layups are getting more and more sexy (i.e. up-and-unders and hanging-in-the-air layups). With Pachulia, he could keep his man in front of him and not let him drive into the paint, forcing a contested 15-foot fadeaway. According to Ronaldinho, "the offense will average less than .9 points per shot" when they shoot from 15+ feet.
Basketball used to be all about height, with multiple big men playing at the same time. Twin Towers were all the rage in the 70s and 80s because the style of play was ground and pound, trying to get as close to the rim as possible. In today's NBA, the pace is much faster, which requires a whole new set of skills. Versatile big men who can defend multiple positions have become all the rage and Bogut might be the last of his kind. Not only can Pachulia guard someone 15 feet away from the basket but he can also step outside to knock down that same shot on offense. No rim protection is no big deal. If you can stop your man before he gets to the rim, you have done your job well.