NBA Experience: 4th season
Weight: 240 lbs.
Key stats: Ivica Zubac averaged 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game after crossing the Staples Center hallway just before last year’s trade deadline. Those were up from averages of 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in under 16 minutes per game for the Lakers. Zubac started 25 of the 26 games he played as a Clipper a season ago while converting a shade under 54% of his field goal attempts. He was acquired along with Michael Beasley from the Lakers on February 7 in exchange for legendary Clipper Mike Muscala.
Contract status: The Clippers kept Zubac this summer on a new 4-year deal worth $28 million.
The Clippers clearly made the Zubac trade with hopes of being able to retain the young big man on a long-term deal. His signing was reported the day after the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George news broke, so it’s safe to say it was a move that may have flown under the radar for many.
Zubac is a traditional center, which is a position that has become somewhat endangered in the league over the last 5 years or so. He didn’t attempt a 3-pointer all of last season, and over 94% of his total field goal attempts came from within 10 feet of the basket. That said, he did say earlier this summer that he’s been working on his long distance stroke, and that he feels comfortable enough taking them if he’s open enough. We’ll see about that. Zubac fortunately isn’t a guy that demands post-ups, but he has shown good touch and a decent amount of skill finishing near the rim.
Doc Rivers has teased a “sliding starting lineup” during the preseason. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would seem to be the only players with surefire spots among the starters, while Rivers may rotate the other 3 spots depending on matchups. Zubac’s starting center spot will presumably go to more mobile options like Montrezl Harrell or JaMychal Green if matchups call for a smaller starting unit.
Zubac essentially disappeared during the Clips’ first-round series against Golden State. He played in just 4 of the 6 games, which includes DNP-CDs in Games 4 and 5 as well as a 2-minute cameo appearance at the end of the decisive Game 6. Rivers eventually realized there was really no sense in playing the 7’1” Zubac against a team starting the 6’6” Draymond Green at the 5. Fortunately, that’s the kind of adjustment the retooled roster is more equipped to make than the undermanned squad we saw for most of last season.
Zubac’s job will be simple while he’s out there. He’s going to be tasked with protecting the rim and cleaning the defensive glass while setting solid screens and serving as a capable roll man on the other end of the floor. We will likely see a lot more of him against teams like the Nuggets (Nikola Jokic) and Jazz (Rudy Gobert) than we will against teams like the Warriors that may prefer to go small.
Zubac is the best defensive center option on the roster. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that he’s really the only center on the roster with real NBA experience, but the team did get noticeably better in that regard after trading for him and subsequently dumping Marcin Gortat. His offense is still a work-in-progress, but it’s not like this Clippers team should need much scoring from that position, anyway.
I expect to see Zubac shuffling in and out of the starting unit, and there’s a decent chance he’ll finish more games if needed now that the Clips likely won’t be quite as reliant on Montrezl Harrell’s scoring ability with Leonard and George in the fold. He’s still only 22, so it’ll be fun to see how Zubac’s game develops over the next few years. Zu likely won’t ever become a star, but the Clippers can always use more worker bee types. He seems committed to getting better, which is exactly what you want from your young guys.