The Los Angeles Lakers underwent a couple remodel at the center position last offseason, as starter from last year Roy Hibbert left in free agency.
A pair of international players were brought in to replace him, as they signed veteran Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million contract, and they then drafted 19-year-old center Ivica Zubac out of Croatia in the second round.
Mozgov began the year as the team’s starter, while Zubac bounced back and forth between the Lakers and their D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
When the Lakers season went south and their playoff hopes dwindled, the focus really shifted to the team’s young core, so Zubac saw a big uptick in his playing time, and eventually ended up in the starting lineup.
That came at Mozgov’s expense, as the 30-year-old did not play in 23 of the team’s last 25 games to close out the season.
Mozgov took the demotion well though, as he served as a mentor to Zubac, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury and missed the final seven games of the season.
Going into next season it is currently unknown who the team’s starting center will be, but in his exit interview Mozgov was candid in saying that he does not believe that Zubac is ready to take on that role yet, via Lakers Nation reporter Serena Winters:
Timofey Mozgov is impressed with Ivicz Zubac, but doesn’t think Zu is ready to be a starting center just yet, needs more time to develop.
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) April 13, 2017
Zubac appeared in 38 games in his rookie season, starting 11 of them. In 16.0 minutes per game he averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent from the field.
Pegged as the center of the future, Zubac demonstrated an ability to score in the paint with ease using a variety of post moves, something that Mozgov’s game lacks.
Mozgov may be right that Zubac isn’t quite ready to be the team’s starter, but it is almost certain that if he continues to progress he will take over that role at some point next season.