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The Case for Zaza Pachulia, Mediocre Center and NBA All-Star

All-Star Weekend has been devoid of elbow jumpers and fundamentally sound screens for way too long

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Thursday, the NBA released early All-Star voting totals, and Zaza Pachulia received 439,675 votes, putting him second among Western Conference frontcourt players. He averages 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but found himself ahead of legitimate All-Star Kawhi Leonard, freaks of nature Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, and elite center DeMarcus Cousins. He’s even dominating his significantly more important teammates. He got almost 150,000 more votes than Klay Thompson, and over 200,000 more than Draymond Green. It caught me off guard.

Last year, when he was on the Mavericks, there was a concerted effort to get Pachulia into the All-Star Game. It was led by Vine star Hayes Grier (I guess now he’s not a Vine star anymore since Vine is dead, but I’m still calling him a Vine star), and Wyclef Jean recorded a song, plus the president of Georgia tweeted about it. This year, the stars were silent. While Joel Embiid got 50,000 votes by reminding people that he needs to make the All-Star Game in order to hook up with his celebrity crush and the Sacramento Kings’ social team successfully pandered for 2,000 votes with a corgi, there were no huge campaigns for Zaza. Much like how pollsters severely underestimated the number of Trump voters in swing states, I assumed the Pachulia Push was off this year. And yet the silent majority is apparently out in full force.

Pachulia’s job is to be a steady presence on the NBA’s superteam. While he may be one of the niftiest passing big men in basketball, he’s not exactly a human highlight reel. He’s a strong rebounder and a quality defensive big man. Meanwhile, his teammates include the greatest shooter in basketball history and Kevin Durant. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the team’s otherworldly offense is that he sets really useful screens for the team’s excellent shooters, which isn’t exactly something we want to watch in the All-Star Game, and that is why it would be awesome to see him there.

In November, Zaza Pachulia hit a regular-ass jump shot and proceeded to swing his hips and flap one of his arms like a bird with a broken wing. It’s a move I call the Tbilisi Twerk.

It was perhaps the most vigorous celebration of an uncontested 16-foot jump shot in NBA history. The elbow J is the trademark basketball move of uncles in over-40 rec leagues across the globe. Everybody knows that 3-pointers deserve thrusts; Pachulia is the only person getting his groove on for midrange jumpers.

Getting Pachulia in the All-Star Game would be the rightful reward for those kinds of moves: an over-the-top celebration of a thing that’s decidedly under-the-top. We watch the All-Star Game to see players try off-the-backboard alley-oops, through-the-leg dunks, and 40-footers.

Pachulia can’t do any of that stuff (watch the NBA’s video of his four dunks this season; one of them isn’t even a dunk), but we know that he’d live it up anyway. I have a vision of him hitting a routine layup and spending an entire minute humping the air while the other nine players proceed to play the game around him.

Even though the Pachulia campaign fell short last season, the NBA still diminished the role of fan voting. It now counts for just half of the votes needed to make it to get selected, alongside media and player picks. There’s no guarantee that he’ll win the fan vote, and even if he does, he might not make the game. So that means we have to work extra hard until January 19 to get Pachulia into the All-Star Game. As a wise Georgian philosopher once yelled: Nothing easy. Nothing easy.