When Zaza Pachulia signed his three-year, 15-million dollar deal with the Bucks, every loyal Hawks fan felt a weird tinge-- the sort of uncomfortable feeling that only accompanies an unexplainable attachment to a player that wasn't all that great, but was simultaneously awesome in every way at the same time.
That was Zaza. But, if you're anything like me, you were also probably happy for him, because hey, keep cashin' them checks, right? Everyone clamored that the Bucks overpaid him. They probably did. Whatever, we still love Zaza. We always will. Because he got in KG's face, proclaimed the greatness of going to game seven, and headbutted Jason Richardson and left the arena with random, unaccounted for scars on his shoulder. So for his homecoming, it's only right that we kick off our Q&A with Eric Buenning of BrewHoop with the most essential of questions...
Question (Daniel Christian): Zaza Pachulia is one of the most beloved former-Hawks in recent memory. Most Atlanta fans were devastated to see him sign elsewhere after years of connecting with a fan base that needed someone to provide a jolt of basketball enthusiasm. Oddly enough, it was the fiery back-up center who could enable that enthusiasm more than anyone else. So give us an update on our favorite Georgian. How's he doing in Milwaukee this season?
Answer (Eric Buenning): HE LOVES MILWAUKEE AND NEVER WANTS TO COME BACK TO ATLANTA EVER. SUCK IT, NERDS. But really, Zaza has been....somewhat of a talking point more than anything else this year (at least in my opinion). He's been a great off-the-court presence for Milwaukee's young big men, but as the season marches on, he's been struggling to put together consistent performances. He's put up some pretty solid stat lines of late, but the inconsistency has lead to a decent amount of fans wondering if it is better to just let John Henson start the rest of the season while letting Zaza catch a breath after having to do so much more than what was asked of him when Larry Sanders was out of the lineup. It's not necessarily a knock against anything Zaza has done per se, but the team is definitely headed in a youth-centered direction, so it seems odd that Pachulia is still collecting starts while Henson backs him up.
I like Zaza, though. His kids are super adorable, too. I just don't know how much he should be contributing the remaining 18 games.
Q: The Bucks took on another important member of last year's Atlanta team, former head coach Larry Drew. Milwaukee has been abysmal this season and many predicted them to contend for the lowly eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they have the worst record in the league. After two years of leading Atlanta, I was convinced that Drew was an above-average NBA coach. How much of the Bucks' struggles can be attributed to him?
A: It's hard to say how much blame goes here or there this season, because everything that could go wrong (injuries, under-performing free agent signings, bad off-court incidents, etc.) has gone wrong. For most of this season, the team has played about half of a game competitively, while the other half left us hiding under the media tables in embarrassment. Sometimes they've gone a whole game with that ineptitude (see: last Bucks-Hawks game). That's when Larry Drew was probably the most under fire, apologizing for his team's performances or searching for answers to the media's questions after games.
Recently though, the team has been playing competitive basketball more consistently, though the results haven't jumped too drastically in the win column. I don't know if Drew is finally getting to them more or the players who can play are healthy enough to stay out there for multiple games in a row, but something is "working." Again, I don't know how much of all that can be accredited to Drew.
My biggest question with Drew coaching this team going forward--however long that may be--is whether he can establish some sort of identity and how far he can take this team with that in place. I haven't seen as much of the former as I thought I would, and the relationship between the players and him seems a lot more like teacher-student than player-coach, if that makes sense.
To wrap this all up, I'd say that though the roster construction and performance was pretty much a disaster, Drew should get a pretty decent size of the blame. It seemed like a safe choice that wouldn't take the Bucks to new heights when they hired him this summer, and it doesn't appear like it's going to get much better going forward.
Q: It's safe to assume that the Bucks are looking past this season at this point, thinking of the future. The Greek Freak is already on board, but assuming the Bucks get the number one pick, who would you most like to pair with Giannis to expand the young talent on the team and why?
A: Personally, I'd rather have the number two or three pick, assuming that Joel Embiid is going number one. I don't dislike Embiid, but the move seems like more of a half-measure at number one rather than taking a Wiggins or Parker at the next two positions. In taking Embiid, the Bucks would add another player to their crowded frontcourt. Embiid is projected to be better than anyone ahead of him, which is great, but then what do you do with Larry Sanders who you just signed to a large extension? Not that the Bucks couldn't or wouldn't pull off a trade that got some value back, but the situation after drafting Embiid makes me a little too nervous right now.
I'd like to see Jabari Parker in a Bucks uniform the most right now. Though deficient on defense, Parker can just kill you on the offensive end. Slide him in at the 4 while Giannis continues to be hella versatile at the 3 and I think the roster takes a little more shape than it has in recent memory. Plus, Parker is a Chicago kid, so I'm sure people would make the trip up to see him. More money, less problems for the Bucks, eh? That's how that song goes, right?
Q: What match-up are you most concerned about for the Bucks tonight? Where do you think the Hawks should be concerned (if at all)? Also, give us your final score prediction.
A: I am very afraid of Paul Millsap, or anyone that can get buckets in the paint. The Bucks start Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia together, so..y'know, attack that if you can, because points can come there pretty easy. If the Hawks were to be concerned at all, I'd say watch out for Khris Middleton? If he is anywhere but the middle of the paint, his chances of making whatever shot he takes are reasonably high. He can stroke it, and Atlanta would be wise to shut him down as much as possible. Brandon Knight will score his usual 20-ish points, but if Atlanta can shut down Milwaukee's "secondary offense," they'll win.
Prediction? Well, I hope it's not as ugly as last time. I imagine Atlanta will move the ball around beautifully to loosen Milwaukee's defense up a bit. I can't imagine y'all being too worried about the outcome in the fourth quarter, especially considering Milwaukee doesn't play too well in Atlanta, if I remember correctly. Anyways, the Hawks will win, the Bucks will lose, and everyone will go home happy.