The Toronto Raptors didn’t have an answer for Ivica Zubac, as the Los Angeles Clippers got away with a 124-113 win in the North. Just as notable, Norman Powell logged 22 points in just 23 minutes of play, and the starting backcourt of Paul George and Reggie Jackson combined for 43 points.
Zubac finished the game with a team-high 23 points and 16 rebounds, his 13th double-double of the season. As it stands, the Croatian big is tied for 16th-most double-doubles in the league alongside superstar Jayson Tatum and just two double-doubles behind the likes of Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo and Nikola Vucevic.
And for a star-stacked, championship-hungry team like the Clippers, Zubac’s development has come at the right time.
Granted, Zubac’s offensive package hasn’t taken too big of a leap from his previous few seasons. He averages about the same number of points — and does so in similar ways he’s always done: monster slams off pick and rolls, put-back dunks or the occasional hook shots.
But he’s rebounding like he’s never had before. Averaging 10.9 rebounds, number 40 has been the pillar of the team’s offensive and defensive boards. Not to mention, he’s logging a career-high 1.5 blocks per game.
What is interesting about his offensive production is how his usage percentage is at a career-low of 14.1 percent. That is, he’s not getting the ball as much as he used to, nor is he involved in as many plays as he used to be.
Yet, this season, he’s managed to be the most impactful he’s been in his career. How?
Well, for one, his increased number of offensive rebounds naturally entails that he has more — and arguably, easier — second-chance looks, usually in the form of put-back lay-ups or dunks.
For another, when he does have the ball in his hands, he looks more aggressive. He is less hesitant to post up or even drive against defenders for tough finishes at the rim. For reference, more than 31 percent of the time he’s taking a shot, he’s elevating for a dunk.
You can’t also overlook that Zubac is the longest-tenured Clipper on the roster. As such, he knows — quite frankly, better than anyone else — what it means to play Clippers basketball. He knows the guys, the plays, and his role on the team by heart. And at this point in his career, he knows very well how to execute.
This kind of effective yet unselfish play by the fifth-year Clipper is much-needed in a team full of lethal ball-dominant scorers. Fans have long followed the Clippers center’s development for the last few years, and perhaps it’s starting to blossom at just the right moment.