Zaza Pachulia is 'a lot better' than Mavs thought

DALLAS -- It's probably time to stop worrying about what -- or who -- Zaza Pachulia is not.

He is not DeAndre Jordan. He is not Tyson Chandler. He is not a man who can jump over the phone book in most NBA cities. He is not particularly pretty to watch play basketball.

So what? Nine games into his tenure with the Dallas Mavericks, who acquired him as a desperation move after their summer center saga went south, Pachulia has given people plenty of reasons to talk about what he is.

For example ...

"He is a lot better than I thought," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said recently.

And that was before Pachulia had double-doubles in both games of this week's quickie homestand to help the Mavs sweep the Los Angeles squads. He set new season highs in points (18) and rebounds (16) Friday night to lead Dallas to a 90-82 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Pachulia is a major reason the Mavs are off to a 5-4 start, which ties them for the fourth-best record in the West in the early stages of the season. Dallas is 4-1 when Pachulia has a double-double and 5-1 when he grabs at least 10 rebounds.

Pachulia is a 13-year veteran who provides a lot of the same sort of intangibles that Chandler did during his two one-season stints in Dallas. Longtime face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki loves Pachulia's leadership qualities, which the big man has displayed by addressing the team about what he didn't like after a couple of wins.

"He's just a veteran that any team needs to have around," Nowitzki said.

Pachulia is awfully pleased to be in Dallas -- despite initially being disappointed to be dumped by the Milwaukee Bucks after helping them make a massive leap into the playoffs last season -- and didn't take long to get comfortable here.

Pachulia, who was made expendable when Milwaukee signed Greg Monroe, was the old head on a team with a bunch of young Bucks the past couple of seasons. He readily accepted that role and especially enjoyed helping the development of some of those kids pay off with last season's playoff berth.

However, he's happy to be in a locker room with a lot of like-minded, experienced teammates who appreciate the nuanced ways he helps his team win.

"Numbers for me in this moment really don't matter," said Pachulia, who is putting up 10.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, making him one of only 12 players averaging double-doubles in the league. "It's important to play the right way. If you play the right way, it's so much fun.

"I had to teach those young guys how to play the right way. Here, you look around the locker room and guys have been in the league 10, 11, 12, 17 [years], so these guys know how to play the right way. It's like day and night when I came from Milwaukee. It's become so much easier. Maybe because the mentality that I have is to play team basketball, it's easier for me to fit in this system."

It's also been easy for Pachulia's new teammates to embrace him. He is immensely popular among the Mavs.

"He's a beast," Nowitzki said. "He's a team-first guy. He doesn't care if he scores zero or 20 or whatever. He's out there and he's physical. He usually defends the best frontcourt player. He's undersized, but he makes up for it with a great heart. He's just a fighter."

Added Wesley Matthews: "He's a smart player, tough player, physical player inside, knows the game. More than anything, he just brings us an IQ at that position. Usually you get the dirty work and no brains, or the brains and no dirty work."

And Chandler Parsons: "Man, he's been awesome. He's always been a great rebounder, gritty, tough, an unbelievable screener. He's doing amazing things for us. He sets screens, he rolls, he plays defense, he's making that little jumper, makes free throws. He's impressive.

"I didn't know he was this good, to be honest with you."