In ESPN’s ongoing ranking of NBA players counting down from 500 all the way to number one, Zaza Pachulia of the Atlanta Hawks came in at #223. Besting Pachulia by 14 spots was Joel Anthony of the Miami Heat, who came in at #209 on the list.
One can only assume that the panelists judging these players must have taken forehead size into account in order to move Joel Anthony up the list and jettison past Pachulia. Although in that case, I would have expected a 1-2 finish for both players.
Did the panel of judges mistake Joel Anthony for another player, or did they really think the high fives he gave to LeBron James while riding the bench in the finals were THAT good? Taking a look at the numbers, it is tough to imagine how Anthony could get the nod.
Anthony’s per-36 numbers were pedestrian at best: 5.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 0.2 APG, 2.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG with 56% shooting.
Compared to Pachulia’s per-36 numbers: 10.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.2 SPG with 50% shooting.
So while Anthony is definitely the better at-the-rim defender capable of blocking shots, that is about the extent of his skills.
Despite playing 64 games last year (51 starts), Anthony didn’t record a single game with double-digit rebounds all season. Just take a second to ponder that; an NBA starting center who didn’t have a single game with 10 rebounds. Beyond that, Anthony posted two double-digit scoring games; dropping 10 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, and 11 against the Houston Rockets.
While it is true that Anthony isn’t in the lineup to score most times, his lack of range for an NBA player is alarming. If he isn’t able to look up and see through the net, he is probably too far away from the basket to score. His 56% shooting could stand as proof of offensive potential, but in reality it means that 2-3 times a game, the other team forgets that he is even on the court and he can get an easy layup or two.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Pachulia. With Al Horford‘s injury last season, Pachulia was asked to step in and fill the starting center position for the Hawks, and he did so remarkably.
Despite posting a career high in Win Share last season (5.0, which is 1.6 higher than Anthony’s total last year), as well as his highest PER in three years (14.0, which is 3.7 higher than Anthony’s total last year), Pachulia fell five spots from the previous year’s rankings.
The biggest difference between Anthony and Pachulia lies in their offensive games. While Anthony is non-existent on offense anywhere outside of two feet, Pachulia actually posted the fifth highest shooting percentage (50%) from 16-23 feet in the NBA last year (trailing only Steve Novak, Steve Nash, Nick Collison and Dirk Nowitzki). Pachulia has range to spread the court, while Anthony is most effective standing under the basket holding conversations with the courtside photographers.
In addition to his advanced offensive rang, Pachulia is also a superior rebounder to Anthony. Pachulia posted double-digit rebounds in half of the games he started last season (22/44) and actually averaged 10 rebounds per game after the all-star break last season. Throw in Pachulia’s underrated passing skills, and it is tough to imagine how anyone who actually watches both Anthony and Pachulia play could rank Anthony as the better all-around player.
Obviously, Pachulia has limitations on the court just as Anthony does. It looks as though somebody keeps using the banana peel power-up from Mario Kart on him whenever he tries to run down the court, as he would have most likely led the league in falling down last season if it were an official stat.
His vertical leap (if you can call it a leap) also leaves a lot to be desired, as it looks as though Pachulia has 20-pound sand bags strapped to his ankles every time he goes up for a block. But these are limitations which Pachulia has been able to overcome with other aspects of his game, and as a result has become a fan favorite in Atlanta.
Heat fans however are just as tired of Joel Anthony’s play as the towel-boys in Atlanta are of wiping up Zaza sweat puddles from the court every 45 seconds he goes down. In fact, the only compliment you may ever hear a Heat fan give Anthony is that he very closely resembles Squidward’s house from Spongebob Squarepants.
When your own fans can’t speak highly of you, something might be wrong. We’ll have to wait until next year to see if Pachulia falls further down the list, or if he is able to hop up past Anthony. I know one thing for certain though, Zaza will keep falling on the court and hopping up regardless of where ESPN ranks him.