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The (re)birth of the Lou Williams-Ivica Zubac connection

Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac have reunited after being teammates for half a season two years ago, and their partnership has already been fruitful for the Clippers.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When the Clippers had the opportunity to acquire Ivica Zubac at the trade deadline, one of Zubac’s biggest backers was his former teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers, Lou Williams.

The two played together on the Lakers for half a season in 2016-17 during Zubac’s rookie year before Williams was traded that February to the Houston Rockets. Zubac was barely seeing the floor, and the duo had only played together for 213 minutes, but the time they spent working out and practicing convinced Williams of Zubac’s potential.

Williams told the Clippers front office at this year’s trade deadline, “If we can get him, go get him.”

LA has benefitted tremendously from having Zubac in the starting lineup, and the third-year center feels like he could be the team’s center of the future. However, because Zubac plays mostly with the starters and Williams spends his minutes with Montrezl Harrell at the five, Zubac and Williams haven’t played much together in their second stint as teammates — they’ve only shared the court for 44 minutes in 11 games.

In fact, it wasn’t until Friday’s win over Oklahoma City that Zubac received his first assist from Williams. Zubac got to stay on the floor for a little longer than his usual opening stretch because of the matchup against Steven Adams, who he scored a career-high 26 points against in January. Williams brought the ball up quickly and ran a high screen-and-roll with Zubac, who dove hard to the basket for an easy dunk. Easily done, beautifully executed.

The pair had their second connection of the evening in the second half on another high pick. This time, Zubac had to do a little more work to finish around the basket, but he still completed the play.

Funny enough, Zubac had already assisted Williams twice before the guard returned the favor. Head coach Doc Rivers has been effusive in his praise for Zubac’s passing since he joined the team, and the Croatian center’s assist rate has almost doubled since leaving the Lakers, jumping from 7.4 to 13.9 percent.

Zubac’s first dime to Williams came against Dallas on one of the more surprising plays of the year. The big man was stationed at the elbow and delivered a bounce pass as the springy Williams cut to the basket for a dunk. Zubac also got Williams a clean jumper later in the game on another high screen.

Thus far, the only five-man unit that has registered significant minutes with both Williams and Zubac is the starters with Lou in place of Shai. That lineup has a plus-22.0 point differential in 41 possessions, including an offensive rating of 124.0.

It’s still early in their new partnership, and Lou Williams can make practically any rolling big man look good, but Zubac has shown that he knows how to play with Williams and how to get easy baskets for both of them. It is a process that has been a few years in the making.

“He was there my rookie year, and I learned a lot from him: how to be a professional and how to work out every day, how to prepare for every game,” Zubac said about Williams. “We had a good connection because we were both coming off the bench, we were running a lot of pick and roll, and we really had a good connection, so I think he liked me from my rookie year.”

It seems like Williams still likes Zubac quite a bit, and their rekindled connection can only mean good things for the Clippers from here on out.