Top 10 Hawks Matchups – #7: Larry Drew and Zaza Pachulia Return to Atlanta
The seventh game in our countdown is the Milwaukee Bucks’ lone trip to Philips Arena this season on March 13, which will be the first return of former Hawks center Zaza Pachulia and former Hawks head coach Larry Drew (along with former assistants Bob Bender and Nick Van Exel) to Philips Arena. The Bucks are one of the two teams in the Eastern Conference that the Hawks will only face once as the home team (the other being Brooklyn, which will actually take place in London), which means Hawks fans will have just one opportunity to welcome back Pachulia and Drew.
Pachulia is in his second stint with the Bucks, he played in Milwaukee for the 2004-05 season, but spent the last eight years of his career as a Hawk where he became a fan favorite at Philips Arena. Pachulia endeared himself to fans through his physical play from the start, but became a Hawks legend during the 2007-08 playoffs, going up against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics (“NOTHING EASY!”). Pachulia was able to mold to whatever role he was asked to play, from starter to bench player, but was always a leader and did so with class. His return to Philips will be an extremely emotional moment for all.
Drew began his Hawks coaching career as an assistant under Mike Woodson from 2004-2010 before taking over as head coach for the 2010-11 season. Under Drew the Hawks compiled a 128-102 (.557) record and a 10-14 (.417) playoff record, including a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in his first season. Drew, like last year with the Hawks, will be asked to take a number of new players and piece them together to make a playoff run.
The Bucks will have a very different-looking roster from last year’s squad as they lost Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, their top two scorers last season, in the offseason. Other notable departures from the Bucks this offseason include JJ Redick, Samuel Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Beno Udrih. Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh and Ersan Ilyasova will be the core group that returns for the Bucks this season, and they will be joined by OJ Mayo, Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pachulia and others. The Bucks will have to hope that Drew can be as successful as he was last season in Atlanta at piecing together the roster and getting them to buy into his system.
While the Hawks and Bucks are in similar positions as organizations in transition with each bringing in new coaching staffs and a lot of changes to their roster, Milwaukee has more question marks as to how their roster will fit together, especially offensively. With Sanders the Bucks defense, when he is on the court, will be above average due to his immense presence in the paint. Last season with Sanders on the court, the Bucks held opponents to 1.026 PPP on 47.5 eFG%. Without Sanders the Bucks struggled, allowing opponents to score 1.118 PPP on 51.3 eFG%. The Bucks’ offense will likely be similar in construct to Atlanta’s last year, but, aside from Mayo and Ilyasova, the Bucks lack highly effective scorers. Sanders and Henson will have to become more effective on the offensive end for the Bucks to make another playoff push this season.
As for playoff seeding ramifications, the season-ender in Milwaukee will likely be a more important game, but we chose to highlight the March 13 game here in Atlanta because the return of Pachulia and Drew will be one of the most emotional moments of the season.
Previously in the Top 10 countdown:
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