ESPN is counting down the best players in the NBA from 500-1. Atlanta Hawks backup big man Zaza Pachulia ranks 223 on the list.
Pachulia has been playing professional basketball for 13 years. When he was just 15 years old, Pachulia was recruited and signed by the Turkish professional team Ülkerspor. He played in Turkey from 1999-2003, then came to the States to enter the NBA Draft.
In the ’03 Draft, the Orlando Magic selected Pachulia with the 13th pick in the second round. He appeared in 59 games for the Magic in his rookie season and averaged 3.3 points in 11.3 minutes per game.
The Charlotte Bobcats then picked up Pachulia in the 2004 expansion draft but immediately traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks where he played the ’04-’05 season. With the Bucks, Pachulia averaged 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game off the bench.
In the 2005 off-season, Pachulia signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks, immediately becoming the team’s starting center. In his first season with Atlanta he averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. An on-court altercation between Pachulia and Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett led one writer to dub Pachulia “Balboa” after the larger-than-life movie character of the boxing sensation known simply as Rocky.
Pachulia has spent seven of his nine NBA seasons with the Hawks. He re-signed in 2009, agreeing to a multi-year deal. Pachulia was solid this past year for Atlanta averaging 7.8 points and 7.9 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game, while posting a 49.9 percent overall shooting percentage. Not to mention he stepped up and played an enormous role for the team after all-star Al Horford went done with a season-ending injury. But for some reason the “experts” who made up these rankings moved Pachulia down the list five spots this year from 2011’s mark of 218.
In reality, Pachulia breaks through the Top-200 with ease.