Despite the fact that Ivica Zubac was coming off a disappointing sophomore season, the Los Angeles Lakers kept him on the roster in favor of waiving Thomas Bryant. The decision was one that surprised most.
As free agency unfolded and concluded, the Lakers’ only notable signing at center was JaVale McGee. Prior to that they selected Moritz Wagner in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, which translated to Zubac figuring to receive plenty of opportunities.
However, that had yet to play itself out as such through the first eight games of the season. He’d appeared in just two contests and played a combined seven minutes. One of Zubac’s games saw him pick up five fouls in five minutes.
Despite last playing Oct. 24, the third-year center still provided the Lakers with a valuable 20 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Following he victory, Zubac credited McGee for helping him remain prepared when called upon, as seen on Spectrum SportsNet:
“JaVale was pushing me to work harder, and I knew my chance was coming. Luke said at the beginning of the year at some point everyone was going to get their chance. I was staying later, working out really hard to stay in shape. Just got to be a professional.”
Zubac further raved about McGee’s presence and the benefit that’s come with matching up against him in practice:
“It’s been great. JaVale has been great for us. On defense, he’s been amazing. There’s a lot of stuff I can pick up from him. Going against him every practice has been really good for me.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton raved about Zubac’s play in his postgame interview. He also credited the 21-year-old for conducting himself like a professional even as playing time was nonexistent.
Zubac finished the night with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 1 steal. His contributions, along with a double-double from Rajon Rondo, helped the Lakers’ bench outscore that of the Trail Blazers, 51-26.
Zubac was on the floor when the Lakers created some separation in the third quarter and stretched it out to a 20-point lead in the fourth. Zubac’s play may have earned him more minutes in the short term but beyond out the picture could become muddied with the expected signing of Tyson Chandler.