MINNEAPOLIS — During his first 118 games with the Warriors, Zaza Pachulia embraced routine. Knowing that he would start the first and third quarters made it easier for him to settle into a rhythm.
Now, little more than two weeks after JaVale McGee supplanted him in the starting lineup, Pachulia is still figuring out how to prepare mentally when he has no idea when he’ll play. Less than 48 hours after a six-minute dud at Portland, he delivered one of the best performances of his Golden State career in Sunday afternoon’s win over Minnesota.
In 25 minutes, Pachulia had 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. He played solid positional defense, set textbook screens, found open shooters and tested the limits of his offensive arsenal. There was an elbow jumper, two turnaround layups and a floater in traffic.
“It didn’t shock me,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Zaza is so professional. I mean, I know things haven’t gone his way the past couple weeks, but he’s been working every single day.”
After poring over team analytics over the All-Star break, Kerr knew he needed to shake up his starting lineup. Golden State’s defensive rating in the first five minutes was significantly worse than it was last season despite the same starting unit.
Though Pachulia had been providing the nuances — screens, pinpoint passes, spacing — that are fundamental to his job, he was the only player Kerr could reasonably move out of the starting lineup. The hope was that McGee’s speed, energy and shot-blocking ability would offer a jolt to a group that had been less productive than its pedigree would suggest is possible.
Pachulia’s minutes have fluctuated drastically based on matchups since he moved to the bench. Though he has shown flashes of the player who was a steadying force in Golden State’s championship run last June, he has had a tough time no longer having a set substitution pattern.
A prototypical big man, Pachulia’s skill-set is becoming more niche than necessity as the NBA trends toward small-ball lineups. Last week, when the Warriors hosted a quick, versatile Nets team, he didn’t play despite David West being sidelined with a right-arm cyst.
“That was not fun to deal with,” Pachulia said. “As a competitor, you always want to play. It doesn’t matter small lineup, big lineup. You just want to play, help your team and do what you’re paid to do.”
Pachulia has exorcised his annoyance by staying late after practice, playing games of 3-of-3 and making late-night trips to the practice facility. After touching down Saturday night in Minneapolis, he headed straight to a local gym.
That he finally broke through and had a memorable performance Sunday won’t change his approach. With his playing time in constant flux, Pachulia is intent on focusing on what he can control.
“It’s hard to find consistency when you don’t know when you’re going in there,” Pachulia said. “It’s tough. But most importantly, you just have to stay in shape. That’s the biggest challenge. I’m trying to do whatever it takes.”
Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron