With Timofey Mozgov being ruled out for Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks with a left eye contusion, head coach Luke Walton made the surprising decision to replace him in the starting lineup with rookie Ivica Zubac.
Zubac hadn’t even been active in the Lakers’ first four games, but Walton felt confident enough in the rookie to give him the nod with the starters. Zubac responded by scoring the Lakers first two baskets of the night, finishing with six points and three rebounds in 19 minutes.
It wasn’t all great for the rookie as he also picked up four fouls, three of which came in the first quarter. Nonetheless, Walton was satisfied with Zubac’s NBA debut according to Lakers Nation reporter Serena Winters (via Spectrum SportsNet):
Luke Walton said he was pleased w/ Ivica Zubac's debut, said he didn’t look nervous, made some good plays, rebounds & talked on D (on SPSN)
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 3, 2016
Zubac certainly showed some flashes of why the Lakers are so high on the 19-year old. He looked comfortable on the block and didn’t hesitate to take his shots when he had them. In fact, he didn’t miss, making all three of his attempts.
The rookie also showed his age, however, as he struggled to contain Dwight Howard down low and committed a couple of silly fouls thanks to being either out of position, or falling for a pump fake.
Regardless, it’s easy to see why Walton was happy with how his rookie looked in his first ever NBA game. Zubac is huge, active, and skilled and has a ton of potential. As he continues to develop and become more comfortable, he is going to give Walton another option off the bench and could easily push for regular minutes.
The Lakers picked up a big road win over the Hawks as the team looks much improved compared to last season. The ceiling for Walton’s team is outstanding, and Zubac pushes it even higher.