At the end of the 2016-17 NBA season, then-rookie big man Ivica Zubac looked like he was set for a much larger role in the Los Angeles Lakers, but head coach Luke Walton had other plans when the 2017-18 campaign began.
Before the NBA All-Star break, Zubac had played just 93 minutes over 18 games in his sophomore season. Since the Lakers made several trades right before the break, Zubac has seen his minutes increase exponentially.
According to Walton, Zubac’s increased playing time has been more than the result of the Lakers making a few moves prior to the trade deadline. Walton credited Zubac for the progress he’s made over the course of the season, which has earned him more burn, via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“He’s come a long way. What I really like, what he’s been doing is being more aggressive,” coach Luke Walton said. “Rolling to the rim, no matter what, whether he thinks he’s getting the ball or not. Getting offensive rebounds, running into screens instead of jogging into them. So he’s done a really good job of doing the little things better. He’s got a great skill-set for his size, great touch, great feel for the game. But with his most recent opportunity, he’s done a really good job of being more physical and aggressive in what he’s doing.”
Earlier this season, Walton highlighted multiple areas, emphasizing defensively, where the Lakers wanted to see Zubac improve. That factored into the team’s decision to leave the young center in the G League for much of the year.
Zubac is averaging seven points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 55.2 percent from the field since the All-Star break, averages that look paltry but are drastic improvements over his output in the first half of the season.
Some of the shine might have come off of the sophomore center when he was struggling to get minutes over Andrew Bogut, but it’s important to remember how strongly Zubac finished out the final games of last season as he played his way into the Lakers’ future plans and fans’ hearts.
Zubac might never reach the potential fans were hoping to see from him then, but if he continues to look like a dependable post-up presence who is surprisingly nimble on defense, he could eventually play his way back into the Lakers’ rotation on more of a full-time basis moving forward.