Zaza Pachulia wasn’t projected to be the starting center when the Dallas Mavericks acquired him in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks in the summer.
But at the quarter-season mark, Pachulia has been the Mavs’ Most Valuable Player.
With 12 double-doubles through the first 20 games, Pachulia has been such a breakout player that if the season ended today he would likely be a strong candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘The one thing in life you control is effort,’ whether in business or sports or whatever,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said before Sunday’s game against the Washington Wizards. “Zaza is the definition of that, and he embodies that more than anybody.
“There’s never a moment where he’s not going 100 miles per hour or going 100 percent and taking advantage of effort. You combine that with skill and basketball, and you get a lot of good things.”
The Mavericks expected JaVale McGee to be their starting center, but McGee is just now getting back into game shape after dealing with a stress fracture in his left leg.
Pachulia, meanwhile, has seized the moment, averaging 10.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
“I know he’s getting a lot of attention because he’s been getting a lot of double-doubles, but we knew he’d fit our culture; we knew his skill set fit our personnel,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was unclear as to whether he was going to be a starter, but the way it came down it was a necessity just based on our situation with health.
“He’s taken advantage of an opportunity. You like to see guys that are opportunistic like that. It shows resourcefulness, it shows that they care and that they’re going hard.”
Chance to be home
Justin Anderson got to spend some time at home during the Mavericks’ visit to Washington.
After Dallas arrived Saturday, the rookie out of Virginia spent about five hours at his brother’s home in nearby Alexandria, Va.
“It was great to be able to get home from a mental standpoint and kind of decompress and be around family a little bit, and have some home-cooked food,” Anderson said. “Being from Virginia — a neighboring state — and going to the university there, there was a lot of love people are showing me on social media and saying they’re excited to come out to the game. So it feels good to be home.”
Anderson grew up about an hour from D.C. and attended college at Virginia — which is a little more than a two-hour drive away.
“He’s learning an awful lot in a relatively short period of time,” said Carlisle, who also attended college at Virginia. “The exhibition season was an adventure — there’s a lot of new things he’s seeing, and he’s playing against NBA players for the first time.
“But the key for him is keep things simple — do things hard and stay within the system. He’s a young player that we really like. We love his enthusiasm. We love his game, his athleticism, strength. He shoots the ball well; he’s tough-minded. He’s a great team guy.”