With every new guy that walks through the doors of the Los Angeles Clippers practice facility, it’s easy to get distracted by the possibilities of what could be. Aside from dreaming of what a season of healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could bring, it felt like the biggest headliners of media day were John Wall and Norman Powell.
But while we’re all inclined to let ourselves get carried away dreaming up small-ball lineups to fit all of this squad’s wing depth into, it’s easy to forget about the one big guy who has been such a constant for the franchise in recent years.
The biggest story about Ivica Zubac from media day was that he feels good despite rolling his ankle during the EuroBasket tournament with Croatia this summer. That news should come as a huge relief to Clippers fans, given how important their starting center has become to any title aspirations they hold. Though his stats have never leaped off the page, his numbers have been creeping up year over year, as have the value of his contributions to the team.
With that in mind, let’s think about how he could help this year.
What is the best case scenario for their season?
Zubac will just be hoping that he can continue on the upward trajectory he’s been on and help his teammates make a deep push for a chip, but that’s because he’s a modest guy who doesn’t seem to put himself ahead of anybody else. For that reason, I’m going to be selfish on his behalf and say that his best-case scenario would be him being trusted to be a part of the Clippers’ closing lineups when it comes down to crunch time.
It’s expected Ty Lue will continue to go small in these moments, given the success they’ve had doing that with Nicolas Batum in particular, and the re-signing of Robert Covington as another solid stretch five option. Zubac managing to find his way into those minutes more often than not would be a huge sign of the trust in him, if the coaching staff can overlook whatever they’d lose by having a traditional big on the floor in favor of what he can bring to the team.
What is the worst-case outcome?
I’m going to go left field with this one and suggest that the worst case would be Zubac getting packaged up by the front office as part of a consolidation trade mid-season. While he’s still relatively young, the window of his value being high enough to be included as a key piece in a trade is shrinking relatively fast. It feels like, beyond Leonard and George, most guys on this team could be dispensable if the right player became available, and being a 25-year-old starter for a contending team on a good contract would make Zubac a desirable pickup for sellers in the market.
If you’re reading this, Lawrence Frank, please don’t even think about it.
What do you think is the most likely role for them?
The most likely on-court role for Zubac is almost certainly as the starting center. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Clippers fan who doesn’t believe that to be the case. Off the court, his role can be expected to grow even more in terms of his influence in the locker room. Expect that to continue to translate onto the floor too, as having a point guard like John Wall on the team will only help Zubac’s numbers. He’ll still be trusted in some big moments whenever there’s a good matchup for him, despite any potential defensive holes other teams will try to exploit via switches.
Zu is ready for all of that and more. This season, it’s time for him to take his game and his team up another level.