As fog fades away, Zaza settles in, becomes key factor for Warriors

As fog fades away, Zaza settles in, becomes key factor for Warriors

OAKLAND -- For the better part of his first two months in a Warriors jersey, Zaza Pachulia was tentative on offense and unimposing on defense. The transition was difficult enough that he remarked about how “hard” it is to play with so many stars.

He fumbled entry passes and rarely finished at the rim. He was either fifth or sixth on the team in blocked shots.

Just as fans were wondering why the Warriors signed him -- and why they weren’t seeing more of JaVale McGee -- the fog that so often seemed to conceal Pachulia’s skills is starting to burn off.

The number of plays he has made over the past week, notably in the 117-106 win over Sacramento on Sunday, are showcasing Pachulia’s ability. His teammates and coaches are noticing.

“The more you play with each other, the more comfortable you get,” Draymond Green said late Sunday night. “I can’t say we’ve had a big like Zaza that we’ve played with for the last four of five years. You get more comfortable as the season goes on, and he’s getting more comfortable. You start to figure out where he likes the ball, and where he’s going to be. And as of late, we’ve been doing a better job of it.”

Pachulia’s numbers are climbing. He scored in double figures twice in the first 34 games. He’s done it in each of the last four, averaging 11.0 points per game on 66.7-percent shooting.

But his value goes beyond numbers. Pachulia’s presence is, to his teammates, much more settling, perhaps because he is feeling much more settled.

“I just feel more comfortable,” Pachulia said after practice Monday. “Maybe I’m in better shape. Maybe I wasn’t in as good a shape as now at the beginning of the season. Something changed. I feel better.

“In the beginning, it was all about watching and observing, like, ‘What can I do to help these guys and to help the team and get them better shots, instead of contested shots.’ I was caught up in that a lot. I think less now. Not because I don’t care, but just because I feel more comfortable. I know their games better. I know what to do.”

Because he’s a 6-foot-11 center that rarely blocks a shot and lacks a go-to offensive move, the belief was that Pachulia would earn his keep by doing the subtle things that would help to win games. He’d communicate on defense and use the knowledge gleaned over 13 seasons to aid in any way possible. He’d set screens, occasionally find a cutter with a pass, keep opponents off the glass and grab a few rebounds.

The 32-year-old native of the Republic of Georgia has gained enough confidence in his surroundings to go beyond that.

Pachulia was in the middle of the play of the night in the win over Sacramento. Kevin Durant blocked a DeMarcus Cousins shot, with the ball bouncing to Pachulia. Without hesitation, the big man flipped a no-look outlet pass backward over his head to a streaking Stephen Curry, who took it in for a layup.

“Zaza’s got a little flair to him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He likes making plays like that. Not that he’s constantly making them, but he’s got a little of that in him and I know he had fun with that play.”

Pachulia, whose impressive showing in the balloting for the All-Star Game has inflated his celebrity status, though hardly his head, downplayed the pass that made the video rounds on social media.

“I don’t want to be caught up in it,” he said. “Just make sure it’s a solid play for me. That’s how I look at it, to be solid and accurate and a good pass. But, honestly, in that situation, I saw Steph was wide open. So I didn’t want to waste any time and turn around and pass it. I just let the ball go because he was by himself.”

The play took vision, skill and a certain audacity. It’s easier to be audacious with your teammates when you’re comfortable with them as players and as people, no matter if they are “stars.”

Does Harrison Barnes miss the Bay Area? 'I like living in Dallas, but...'


Does Harrison Barnes miss the Bay Area? 'I like living in Dallas, but...'

After four years in Oakland, Harrison Barnes was forced to leave town when the Warriors signed Kevin Durant last summer.

Barnes just finished the first year of a four-year, $94 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks.

So, does the former first-round pick miss his old home?

"I like living in Dallas but will always have love for Oakland!!" Barnes said in response to a question on Twitter on Sunday.

Barnes also picked his favorite restaurants in Oakland and San Francisco.

"Belly in Oakland or Amber in SF," Barnes wrote.

Steve Kerr keeping offseason routine in line: 'I'm not Jon Gruden'


Steve Kerr keeping offseason routine in line: 'I'm not Jon Gruden'

For the third straight summer, Steve Kerr has had a shortened offseason to work with.

While he is working on things for the 2017-18 season, he's not trying to cram as much work into a short period of time. He's taking time to relax and enjoy the summer.

In an interview with The Chronicle's Scott Ostler on Saturday, Kerr pulled back the curtain on how's spending the time before training camp starts.

“I’m on the phone, talking to Bob Myers, talking to our coaches and to different people. Writing down thoughts, putting together plans for our coaching retreat. It might be just something that pops into my head, where I just stop and write something down. But I’m not Jon Gruden, I’m not waking up at five in the morning and going to the film room,” Kerr said.

What could Kerr and Myers possibly talk about every single day?

“We talk about players, talk about roles. We talked a lot about Nick Young and [Omri] Casspi before we signed those guys. Talked a lot about our center position. Bob and I talk every day, kind of the first thing in the morning we check in with each other, usually talk for a half hour. We’re really close. He just got back from a great vacation, in Italy,” Kerr said.

Kerr and the defending champion Warriors get back on the court Sept. 30 in a preseason tilt against the Nuggets in Oakland. Then they head to China to play the Timberwolves twice before returning to face the Kings at home on Oct. 13. Four days later, they raise a banner, get their rings and tip-off the regular season against the Rockets.