When Ivica Zubac was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 32nd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, not much was expected of him. He was just a 19-year-old from Croatia who had played a couple years of pro basketball in Serbia.
Also, the Lakers took Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick in the same draft, and attention was naturally put heavily on him. On a 2016 Summer League team that featured Ingram and D’Angelo Russell, one would have to play pretty well to garner the attention of Lakers fans.
But it was the under-the-radar feeling Zubac had that allowed him to thrive. He put up great numbers in Las Vegas Summer League, and became an instant fan favorite. That strong showing carried into solid rookie season in which Zubac played 38 games and averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Many pegged Zubac to be a real part of the team’s future. However, his sophomore season did not go as planned. He struggled mightily in Summer League, and was largely bullied by opposing centers in his 43 appearances during the regular season.
Through it all, however, Zubac never lost faith, but did wonder if perhaps his opportunities would need to come with a team other than the Lakers, via Kyle Goon of the Southern California News Group:
“I never doubted me,” he said. “Sometimes I would think maybe it’s not gonna happen here. Maybe it’s gonna happen somewhere else. But I always knew I gotta stay in shape, because it’s the NBA, and you never know.”
Zubac’s time with the Lakers seemed to be coming to a head last summer but the team instead waived Thomas Bryant. Now, Zubac has become a key contributor for the team in recent games.
Zubac’s 18 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks were essential in a thrashing of the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. And in a comeback win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he not only was a part of the bench unit that brought the Lakers back, but his four points and assist in the overtime period all but sealed the victory.
Zubac finished with a career-high 26 points to go along with 12 rebounds. He followed that up with 17 points and seven rebounds against the Houston Rockets, knocking down clutch free throws that helped keep the Lakers ahead.
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