Apricot's Great Lost 2017 Zaza Pachulia Exclusive Interview; plus HWFL induction
He was a great interview
The master list of Honorary Warriors For Life lists everyone already polled.
Zaza Pachulia was generous enough to give me an exclusive interview in 2017 back when I was at Golden State of Mind to discuss a range of topics including his own role models, mentoring Jordan Bell and Damian Jones (including his veteran tip for dealing with referees), as well as the way he thinks about running the Warriors’ offense and setting hard screens.
Because of the delightful Vox model, this article only got a few hours of exposure before being buried by the stream of clickable shorts. I am re-publishing it here for posterity.
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Honorary Warrior For Life, Zaza Pachulia Election Results…
Weighted Vote: 91.8% Yes.
Poll 89%, Comments 93%.
Zaza sails over the 75% Honorary Warrior For Life threshold. Congratulations!
Mycroft (10 ♡):
Protection for Curry was essential in a league that had a default setting of permitting other teams to tackle him and throw him out of bounds every time he moved without the ball, and to undercut every three point shot to the point that Curry implemented his own default of falling down every time he fired a three to avoid hurting an ankle. People who think Curry is soft and that no "Jordan rules" apply to his game haven't watched what has happend to him off-ball for years. Bogut, and even more so Pachulia, were a huge part of the threat of retribution for an "unintentionally inflicted" Curry injury that at least kept most of the off-ball muggings out of the permanent injury category. In true hockey fan fashion, we should embrace the fact that Pachulia's step under Kawhi Leonard was dirty, just as it was for every other player in the league who did it, and is for those who still do. But SA invented that play, and calling it the Zaza rule instead of the Bowen rule is just disrespectful to a truly dirty player and a team defensive system at SA that encouraged it. On the day in question, SA (particularly LaMarcus Aldridge) was repeatedly undercutting Curry before Pachulia, ahem, stepped in. One would expect that Pachulia, Green and company had colorfully and clearly communicated (with four-letter emphasis) what would occur if SA kept trying to hurt their meal ticket. Pachulia and Bogut are part of why all the old-timers "we'd have hurt Curry in our day" posturing rings hollow. Because if they had, Pachulia would have ended Bill Laimbeer's overrated cheap-shotting basketball life. If all Pachulia ever did was knock Westbrook down, he'd get my vote. Yes.
Run_TMC (6 ♡):
#YES. I don't understand some people's criteria for HWFL. To me it's guys I loved. If they only spent a little time with the team (David West, GP2, JaVale, Zaza etc.) I don't care. If they weren't THAT talented (JTA, D Lee, etc.), I don't care. I only care if they played Warrior (team 1st) basketball and gave their all and bought in. It's feel. Guys like KOJ and Nick Young fail on emotional grounds, not skill or longevity. A lot of the things people seem to be judging on have other awards to measure that stuff. I don't care , I'm going to vote every mediocre player that I loved as an HWFL. That is part of the joy of being a fan!
GlueAndBold (6 ♡):
Zaza feels like an easy #YES because of his Warrior-ness outside of his playing career. Players like him and SDot have made a choice to essentially be Warriors for life, or at least beyond their playing years. That means something to me. I really like seeing well-liked, intelligent former Dubs continue in positions with the organization.
Sleepy Freud (5 ♡):
One manslaughter is another man’s laughter. :-)
Seriously: while allowing that the step-under was probably dirty, I put the onus for the whole incident more on Popovich, for both (1) playing Kawhi on a clearly jacked up ankle (he had been grimacing in pain from it minutes earlier), and (2) having the gall to liken the **same move he had encouraged from Bruce Bowen for years** to “manslaughter,” a bit of hypocritical, sore-loser hyperbole that resulted in death threats to Zaza’s family. A low moment in Pop’s otherwise sterling career.
For his part, Kawhi — cool dude that he is — didn’t consider it a dirty play at all.
Also, @ Skip Bayless and other Warrior haters: the GOAT Warriors who buzzsawed through the playoffs 16-1 were going to kick the living crap out of the Spurs either way. One half of bad basketball by the good guys — in an annoying Eastern matinee game, which are always brutal for West Coast teams — was not evidence of how that series would have turned out with a healthy Kawhi.
Apricot's Great Lost 2017 Zaza Pachulia Exclusive Interview
(This was first published Dec 16 2017. The conversation happened while he was helping at the Boys and Girls Club of SF.)
Eric Apricot: Thinking about the Boys and Girls Club of SF, did you yourself have a positive role model when you were a teenager?
Zaza Pachulia: I did. So growing up in the Republic of Georgia, you know, we were part of the Soviet Union when I was born, but we got separated in 1991. It was really tough back then, but you know basketball was so popular. Growing up in a family when both my parents were athletes -- my dad was a wrestler, my mother was a basketball player –- I learned a lot from them.
Back then, there was no social media, no Internet. Circumstances weren't as good, no electricity, things were pretty tough. So I was so lucky to have my parents. I definitely learned a lot from both of them. Different perspectives, so I was lucky. So those two were a huge influence when I was a kid.
EA: Was there anything like the Boys and Girls Club when you were growing up in Georgia?
ZP: Fortunately, now the system is different. We do have Boys and Girls Club, as of now. When I was a kid, we didn't. Georgia loves sports, right? It's one of their priorities. Soccer is very big. Basketball is probably second place. Rugby is very popular as of today.
So parents love taking the kids to different sports. And honestly, before I started playing basketball, I played soccer for two years. And I was swimming. And it definitely helped to me in other sports and to lead a healthy life. They have very mutual approaches, like discipline. No matter what sport you play, you need to learn discipline. And professionally, teamwork! Soccer definitely has teamwork. Soccer also helped with my footwork, honestly.
Then my parents settled on the right sport, basketball. So, the system is a little bit different over there, but trying different sports was amazing. Having a coach, we would practice four times a week at the beginning and as we got older, it became more and more. It's kind of like an academy type approach, very close to the Boys and Girls Club. I think the Boys and Girls Club for today's realities is a perfect fit.
EA: Speaking of mentoring, is there a rookie on the Warriors that you are mentoring right now?
ZP: That is such a privilege to have great veterans so you can learn good habits from them. Coaches can only teach you certain things, right? Basketball is way more than Xs and Os. It's the lifestyle, it's the approach, it's the thinking, it's the preparation, the discipline. So you learn those things, tricks, little details, right? You learn those things from the veterans. So in my life I had great veterans like Juwan Howard and Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill when I was a rookie. Looking back, how helpful it was!
So you want to have a good influence on your rookies. Especially with the big guys, right? Because I'm a center. So we have Jordan Bell and Damian Jones — especially those two young guys — who are amazing talented players and have a bright future ahead of them. It is one of our duties actually to talk to them as much as possible. You don't want to talk too much, but when you see things you can help them to do better, of course then. You know what's a great thing? They're willing to listen and learn from us. It's amazing to have these kind of rookies.
EA: Do you remember any specific veteran tips that you've handed down to Jordan or Damian?
ZP: You want to ask them about it? [laughs] Because, you know it happens every day —you don't plan it. Like, you see something they're not doing right, so you tell them, and they listen.
I'll tell you one of the things actually that comes up in my mind. Me and Jordan we're on at the same time on the court, and one of the officials called a foul. And then Jordan went to him and he called him "ref." And then after the game I told him see from now on, you're going remember all their names of all the referees. So you don't call them "ref," you just call them their name. It's good, it shows that you care, that you know their names. Because they know your name!
Since that time, he always comes to me before the game and says we got this guy, that guy and that guy. Good job, way to go! And it's so important, right, to start your career right, on and off the court. It kind of gets your name out there, your reputation. It's important to have a good reputation from the beginning.
Eric Apricot: You're trusted to pass the ball out of the post while everyone cuts. Are these usually set plays or do you improvise? Do you know who you're going to pass to when the play starts? Or do you just make the read?
Zaza Pachulia: Honestly, what makes this team special is that we have sets, but we don't have any sets. You know? We just play basketball. So, we have situations, we have themes, we have strategies, right? So we know what to expect from each individual player.
It's a compliment for me when I catch the ball, the guys are cutting because they know I'm willing to find the open guy and make the right decision. It's a huge compliment for me, honestly.
KYP. Know Your Personnel. That's what makes this team special when everyone brings something different to the table, and we all contribute and help each other to succeed and make it easier for each other.
EA: Do you ever come out of a timeout and Coach Kerr will say “Hey Zaza, you'll get it at the elbow, and make sure you get it to Nick”? Or is it always up to you?
ZP: It's a read. Coaches definitely trust you, and trust everybody on the court to make the read, because you can't predict this is going to happen. You can read the game, you can read the possession, but you can't come to the game just thinking about, okay, I'm going to score just from the outside. You've got to read the defense and what they give you, and you have so many options.
Not only Nick, but the other side you got Steph, KD, wherever you pass you won't make the wrong move as long as you make the right play. I mean, you pass to a guy is who is going to either finish it, or it's going to lead to a pass that's going to lead to another great shot. It's all about reading.
You know, this game became so fast, and you have to really think the game, you have to think on the court, and you have to make quick decisions. Because guys are getting fast, and the pace is increasing, throughout the league, so it's just crucial to make right decisions.
EA: I've noticed that you've been passing the ball between your legs a lot this year. Is that something you're doing just for the joy of it, or is there a basketball reason? What do the coaches think?
ZP: The true basketball reason, honestly, is I find it easier to release the ball a little earlier, and then I have time to set a good screen on my guy, you know whoever my guy is coming off.
So, at the same time, fans like it. [laughs] I don't know. People like it, and they'll put it on social media. But I'm not trying to be fancy or anything. I'm trying to stay disciplined and be who I am and play this game the right way. So, who cares how you pass it between your legs, the handoff, or overhead. As long as the ball gets delivered to the right guy at the right place and it leads to an easy shot.
That's what it's about. It looks fancy out there, because not everyone is doing it, but for me I'm just happy to get my guy open with a wide open shot.
EA: One of the things you are outstanding at is setting hard screens. Are you giving your rookies tips about doing that?
ZP: Yeah, it's a great question, Eric.
Your first time coming into the league, everybody struggles setting screens, sometimes getting over-excited, and often times it's an offensive foul. It's important to know the techniques. It's important to know the angles and it's about the repetition, and it's about reading the possession.
It's very important to see how your teammate is coming off the screen, who's low, who's back, is the defender chasing, different aspects. It's not one certain thing, it's multiple, but once you know and once you read it and when you exercise it, it is so much fun!
Because it's going to lead to an easy shot for your teammate, or you're going to get open. Most of time you're getting open, because we got so many great shooters in this league today. Your man is helping them, and then you're rolling, and wide-open. It's a process and it’s fundamentals.
Thank you for your time, and have fun with the kids!
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"We have sets, but we don't have sets."
"its a read....you read the game... you read the defense..."
As much as it is fun to see the Explain One Play slow motion break down of game action, I have always been a little skeptical of how much was actually set plays, and how much was what Zaza was saying with these quotes.
Excellent interview, great questions. Man, that's some sweet passing in that assists video. Ahhh... the days when Draymond cut and scored a lot.