Zaza Pachulia really stepped up for a injured Al Horford in the shortened season. Unfortunately he may have been given too many minutes (lot of 38 plus minute games), which is ironic since Mike Woodson and Larry Drew had both minimized his court time the two previous years. Sadly Zaza wasn’t available for the playoffs. The expectations for this season were different between Larry Drew and a lot of the fans. From a fan perspective Zaza had proven himself as worthy of the center position in Al’s absence and gave us hope that maybe the big lineup would finally get an extended tryout. Larry Drew now trusted Zaza more, but still wouldn’t go big regularly. Since they weren’t going big you could only expect Zaza to provide energy and rebounding off the bench.
Zaza got 15 starts in the 52 games he was healthy enough to play before having to shut his season down for his Achilles. He was averaging almost 22 minutes a night showing that he had finally earned the coaching staff faith for the first time since Al was drafted. Zaza’s points were a little off, but his rebounding numbers were as good as they’d ever been. Zaza was giving the Hawks exactly what they expected until he wasn’t able to go anymore.
Game 3 of the season and it’s the Pacers at the Hawks. Josh Smith is still a bit gimpy but coming back after missing the trip to OKC. The starting lineup was Teague at point, Kyle Korver at the 2, Josh at the 3, Al as the PF, and Zaza at C. Yes, the big lineup giving us hope that maybe it could win out as Larry Drew tries to figure out the go to lineup for the Hawks. The Hawks outrebound the Pacers 51-41 and win the game by 3 behind 14 boards from Zaza. For reference the Pacers were the top rebounding team in the entire league, so this should have been a message to Larry Drew as to what identity the Hawks could have if they committed to it. Sadly, that message was never received. The Hawks only went big against certain teams and would often goes 3 weeks between Zaza starts. The Zaza/Al/Josh front line only saw 308 minutes of action spread across 37 games.
Zaza can still play effectively and he's proven that on the court the last 2 years. But an Achilles injury is rough. No one how long it will take Zaza to be back at full speed. This will likely make any suitor of the 6-10 center pause including the Hawks. Furthermore, Zaza’s cap hold is around 7.8M, which likely means that Zaza will be renounced to make free agent moves. That complicates his return if the Hawks are successful in free agency because they won’t be able to exceed the cap to resign him. Even with all that I think there’s a chance that Zaza could be back in Atlanta for the veteran minimum for 1 season to prove his health to the league or possibly for the room mid-level exception. Outside of those scenarios it will likely mean that Zaza has played his last in Hawks uniform although he’ll still be loved by Hawks fans.