A year ago, Ivica Zubac entered the offseason coming off of a campaign in which he was the most promising surprise for the Los Angeles Lakers. He showcased an offensive polish rarely demonstrated by a rookie big man.
What a difference a year makes. Zubac’s sophomore season was far more of a struggle, something the big man said was “a little bit” of a disappointment as he enters his second offseason with the organization.
“After my first year I expected more, but we got some big guys through trades and signed some guys. I was one of the youngest guys, and it’s just how it goes. I was working hard, waiting for my opportunity,” Zubac said, although he was at least confident that he finished the season strong.
“At the end of the year I got into the rotation and I’m pretty happy with how I played,” he added.
Zubac’s limited end-of-season time in the rotation didn’t put much of a dent in his year-long averages. As Zubac still played less time, scored less, shot less efficiently and snared fewer rebounds than he did as a rookie.
After speaking with Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka Zubac at his exit interview, Zubac took full responsibility for those issues.
“I didn’t get prepared like I wanted to. I could’ve done much better. It was my first summer in the NBA, so now I know the things I have to work on,” he explained.
As for what the front office made Zubac aware he needed to get better at over the offseason, he said there were a few key areas. “Mostly my body, getting stronger and getting quicker,” Zubac said.
“They said I improved a lot in those areas but there’s still a lot more room for improvement. That’s going to be my biggest focus this summer.” He also wants a chance to show off his increased proficiency from distance when he returns next season.
“I’ve been working on my 3-point shot for a whole year but never really got a chance to show it off in games because I was getting limited minutes. When I got those minutes I didn’t want to waste it on shooting threes,” said Zubac.
“I was always trying to get in the paint and get the easiest shots I could. I’m going to be working on it again all summer. Hopefully I get a bigger chance and I’ll start shooting threes.”
As promising as Zubac looked as a rookie, there is no guarantee he’ll be back with the Lakers next season, but one year and $1.5 million remaining on his contract is non-guaranteed.
With rookie big man Thomas Bryant showcasing phenomenal production on the South Bay Lakers all season and appearing to be deserving of a role in the rotation next year, there is no guarantee the Lakers will want to use two of their roster spots on seven-foot projects.
No matter where Zubac plays next season, however, he’s focused on not making the same mistakes in preparation he made last summer.
“I’m more experienced now and just have to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said.