Today is 9/9/09. As the eminent Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse pointed out to me. 9+9+9 equals 27 and therefore could easily be the day of Zaza. And if you read my former blog, you know any day that can be a day of Zaza will be here. So to kick off the season preview of Hawks players, we will begin where any good preview of the Hawks should always begin...with Zaza.
Zaza Pachulia is in the rare place as a professional athlete where both player and fan know his role on the team and are both fine with that role. It takes a rare combination of recognizable ceiling and ability to meaningfully contribute. Josh Smith will never know what this is like. It occurs in mostly backup players. Only one superstar has reached this point in the last 20 years (MJ). Leone Powe may be a nice example for another team. It is a special relationship in any sport and we have it with Zaza.
Rarely, do these players stay on one team for an extended period of time. They are uniquely desired by other teams and expendable by their current one. You can always find a backup who has reached his ceiling as a player. So when Zaza signed a new four year deal, it was something special. Atlanta has the chance to root for our Georgian brother from another mother...country for eight years.
Through his ability to accept his backup role as the
dirty hard-nosed center who rebounds and protects the paint during a time when the franchise has had a real resurgence, Zaza has become a crowd favorite. This helped too I guess. He knows it. And he loves it. Asked why he came back, Pachulia said the fans. And I think he actually meant it.
I am not sure Atlanta has had a player like this the last 30 years. The closest I can think of is Mark Lemke for the Braves. If he stays in Atlanta the length of his contract and the Hawks can exceed expectations on the court, Zaza has the chance to carve out a real legacy in this city.
Zaza is going to get called for traveling a lot. He can't jump. He will blow an easy basket if it requires a little athleticism. But he will also deliver the hard foul, grab the desperately needed offensive rebound, and in a perfect juxtaposition fight to put back Josh Smith's air balled jumper.
Fans can totally buy into Zaza because they know what they are going to get. And a main component of that is "effort." So really the preview for Zaza wrote itself in the 82 games he played last year. He will probably do that again. The one hang up is injuries. Pachulia is an annoyer on the court. He pokes and prods and constantly fights for position. He sets hard screens. And being annoying takes being healthy. Zaza must avoid injury to be effective. an injured Pachulia will be a serious body blow to the team. One I can't see the team recovering from more than a first round exit in the playoffs to a one or two seed. However, get a healthy Zaza means getting a Zaza we can unabashfully cheer.
So as we look at Zaza for next reason, expect 20 minutes of nonathletic, annoying passion. Expect relentless rebounds and garbage points. Expect toughness and travels. Expect the Zaza, both Pachulia and the fans have grown to love. Expect this: