As the former No. 32 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Ivica Zubac has seen his fair share of highs and lows during his young career with the Los Angeles Lakers. From a promising rookie season to a disappointing sophomore campaign, Zubac’s future with the Lakers and in the league was questioned.
As the Lakers kept Zubac over Thomas Bryant prior to free agency last summer, they were heavily criticized considering the latter’s success with the Washington Wizards this season.
After averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in the last three games against championship contenders, head coach Luke Walton creditedd the 21-year-old for earning an expanded role. “He’s earned a bigger role, bigger minutes,” Walton said following the Lakers’ loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“For a team that struggles to knock down free throws, most nights he’s earned the right to be in at the end of games just by the way he shoots free throws. He’s doing all the little things better right now, he’s setting screens more consistently, he’s talking coverages out.
“You talk about consistency, for young players that’s the hardest thing to learn with the amount of games we play. Right next to that is communication, talking, especially for a big man who’s kind of in charge of the back line of a defense. He’s doing all of those little things better. He’s earned more minutes and we’ll continue to play him in a bigger role.”
Since Walton became head coach prior to the 2016-17 season, the Lakers have played at one of the fastest paces in the NBA. As Zubac struggled to adjust and teams relied on small-ball lineups, it became too difficult to play him major minutes.
With the Lakers preaching a ‘next man up’ mentality, Zubac is the perfect example of staying ready. Along with getting in better shape during the offseason, Zubac’s ability to finish around the rim and play big on defense has been a pleasant surprise for Walton and the Lakers.
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