At the end of last season it appeared that the Los Angeles Lakers were grooming Ivica Zubac to be their primary backup center going into his sophomore year.
That hasn’t happened, and it turns out that fans expecting a bigger role for him entering the 2017-18 campaign weren’t the only ones. Zubac was too.
“I did, but some things change. I can’t control everything. I’m working hard, staying ready, and I hope my time will come,” he said. “The only thing I can do is work hard and hope they’re going to call my name.
Zubac averaged 20.3 minutes per game over the Lakers’ final 15 contests last season, in which he posted averages of 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds on 51.6 percent shooting while flashing a diverse array of post moves.
He says that the Lakers want to see more than that before he can get his shot in the rotation, citing 3-point shooting, pick-and-roll defense like switching as things the team wants to see him improve at.
Zubac added the Lakers simply want him to be “more aggressive” when he plays, either by sealing when he gets post position or playing harder on defense. Lakers head coach Luke Walton indicated the team is starting to see some of those things from Zubac.
“He’s great. I was watching him from up in the office, he was out here working out. The way that he was going through his pre-practice workout has even gotten a lot better,” Walton said.
“It’s more game speed, even though it’s fake screen and rolls, he’s running into screens and it’s attacking the rim. That’s part of growing up and understanding what it’s really like to be a professional. I’m real happy with the way that he’s working. His game is getting better.”
Despite that improvement, Zubac has only seen 37 minutes for the Lakers this season, the third-lowest on the entire team. Although, coaches told him that was mostly due to factors outside of his control.
“It was mostly about other guys playing good. We play a lot of small ball,” Zubac said. “We have Brook, who’s a really good center in this league. And Bogut, one of the best defensive centers. Julius was playing really good.”
Bogut has now been released, clearing one potential path to playing time for Zubac. Despite that, Walton made it evident that he doesn’t plan to call on the young seven-footer just yet.
“Zu needs to be ready for when his opportunity comes. Right now it’s still Brook, Julius and Larry ahead of him,” Walton said. “He’s done a really nice job of accepting that and continuing to get himself better.”
Zubac said it was “harder” to keep at that level of preparedness without the carrot of a consistent role. However, he’s still staying ready regardless of what his role is.
“I played in some G League games that helped me with my conditioning and working on my outside game. And we switch everything in G League, so I had a lot of time to work on my switching. I think I really improved in those games,” Zubac said.
“It’s harder when you’re not playing in the NBA, but gotta do what you gotta do.”