When it comes to the young core of the Los Angeles Lakers, the final stretch of the regular season finalized a season of growth and maturity in the NBA. After losing so many close contests earlier in the season, players like Ivica Zubac stepped up and produced in their newfound roles.
Towards the end of the season, head coach Luke Walton fully invested in the development of his roster, starting Zubac at center, alongside Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Although the rookie finished the season at the young age of 20, he also begins building his repertoire and adjusting to the physicality of the NBA.
Zubac flourished during this lineup change, moving Tarik Black over the backup position. Prior to his season-ending high ankle sprain, he was averaging 11.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in the month of March.
After starting the season in the NBA D-League, Zubac showed tremendous growth and earned his way into the Lakers rotation. The Lakers front office noticed, with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka working side-by-side with Walton to give much needed experience. During the annual exit interviews, Zubac stated that Pelinka and Johnson were happy with Zubac’s rookie season and appreciated his attitude, via Serena Winters of LakersNation.com:
Ivica Zubac said feedback from Magic/Rob was that he had a good rookie year: “My attitude and confidence, they love it.”
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) April 13, 2017
Zubac understood he could compete at the NBA level even before he was drafted into the league. While many teams that were considering drafting Zubac wanted to stash him away, the 2016 draft pick exuded confidence and believed he could succeed at the next level.
While he did show much promise, there always remains more to improve upon. Heading into the offseason, center Timofey Mozgov stated that Zubac still has to develop in order to be a starter. The Bosnia and Herzegovina native wants to remain a starter going into the 2017-18 season, a hefty goal for the center.
The seven-footer averaged 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 38 games played last season (11 starts). He set a career-high on March 13, in a road contest against the Denver Nuggets. He posted 25 points, 11 rebounds, and a block during a blowout loss.
Zubac already stated that his offseason aspirations include weight training and defensive development, with that desire to improve that Johnson and Pelinka pointed out. Now that the regular season is over, Zubac, Brandon Ingram, and the younger players await the NBA Summer League, a chance to get maximum exposure against other young players.