Among Warriors most underappreciated during seasons good and great, Zaza Pachulia may rank higher than anyone to wear the jersey over the past 40 years.
When the devoted citizens of JaVale Nation were wondering why Zaza was on the court, the Warriors always knew.
And each time Zaza would fumble the ball into a turnover or fail to score off a brilliant pass inside, groans of disapproval could be heard throughout Oracle Arena.
Why is he even playing?
Through it all, over the two full seasons Pachulia was on the roster, as the Warriors were winning two championships, players and coaches barely flinched.
They got it. They understood Zaza’s very necessary role to their success and realized no one else on the roster could do it any better.
On a team of marquee entertainers that flourish under the spotlight, Pachulia was the hired handyman, ensuring the floor was free of hazards and every light was bright and properly aligned. He was the team janitor, cleaning windows, sweeping debris from the stage and taking out the trash.
On a team with three veterans -- Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West -- widely acknowledged for their hoops wisdom, Pachulia was the fourth.
Ask youngsters Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell or Damian Jones who has helped them the most, providing tips on surviving in the NBA paint, and one of the first names tumbling out of their mouths is Zaza.
Ask Draymond Green which of his teammates doesn’t get enough credit for his smarts, and he’ll tell you. It’s Zaza.
Pachulia is Klay Thompson’s opponent on competitive small-wager bets like which would have the most dunks during in the 2017-18 season. Despite Thompson boasting that he would win by “at least four or five dunks,” Zaza emerged with a 13-11 victory.
When Thompson looks around for his buddy next season, Zaza won’t be there. His time as a Warrior officially ended Sunday, when he signed a one-year contract to play with the Pistons.
That Pachulia, whose 57 regular-season starts led all Warriors centers, would not return was apparent during the postseason, when he appeared in seven of 21 games, making zero starts. He had become an unofficial assistant coach. The game as currently played in the postseason, where quickness and agility are essential, pushes an aging plodder like Zaza toward the far end of the bench.
As the game speeds up and defenses demand dexterity, it’s time for the youngsters to show if they are up to the task. They may not screen or block out as effectively as Pachulia, and probably won’t get as deeply into the heads of opponents as he did.
Yet Zaza, 34, will be missed for his contributions. He was significant in much the same ways as Leandro Barbosa was in 2015, or Matt Barnes on the We Believe team of 2006-07 or Mario Elie on the 55-win squad in 1991-92. As Tom Tolbert’s presence was to the Run-TMC teams, so was Pachulia to the back-to-back champs.
Like his former teammates and coaches, those fans that were in Zaza’s corner, aware of his brutish finesse and savvy, appreciated him. Know that their ranks will grow larger in the years to come.