As possibly the most-hyped second-round pick not named Patrick McCaw in NBA history, Ivica Zubac had a lot to live up to in his NBA debut. It might not be hyperbole to say he did so and more.
Zubac’s night starting in place of the injured Timofey Mozgov was not without blemishes to be sure, but he also flashed the type of raw potential that has so many half-seriously, half-facetiously so excited about him. Zubac scored the Lakers’ first two baskets of the evening on his way to a a 3-3, 100 percent shooting effort, and the kid is already a veteran when it comes to understanding how to keep his stats up.
“I’m not going to take another shot!” Zubac told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com after the game, and it would be a shame if he actually held true to his word. Zubac may be as raw as cookie dough overall, but he has the type of sweet post moves that could eventually be baked into a well-balanced game.
It bears reminding: that is a 19-year old, second-round pick, in his first NBA start, successfully and confidently firing off a hook shot over the only player to ever win Defensive Player of the Year three times in a row. He was just following his teammate’s advice:
Howard’s ass definitely wasn’t busted, and he got the better of Zubac overall on the night, dropping 31 points on 12-15 shooting against his former team. Still, it was encouraging to see Zubac was so unafraid of the moment.
After he gave up a dunk to Howard on the first play of the game, Zubac played excellent post defense on his second go around against his childhood idol:
“You have to be between the basket and him and hope he’s going to miss,” Zubac told Mark Medina of the O.C. Register after his debut. “It’s hard. He can back down everyone. I was just holding my hands in the air and hoping he was going to miss.”
It wasn’t just Howard that Zubac managed to show off his defensive skills against. Zubac has the potential to be a high-level defender, potential he showed off on this possession later in the game:
To steal a Luke Walton pet phrase, that was phenomenal. Zubac cut off Dennis Schröder’s driving lane, moved his feet to keep the basket walled off, and then closed out with his arms high to block out the sun on Kyle Korver’s corner three-point attempt. He may not be able to do it every time, but that’s high level stuff for such a young big man.
Small sample size caveats mean we should take these numbers with the entire planet’s supply of salt, but the numbers reflect Zubac acquitting himself well in his just under 20 minutes of burn. He posted a plus/minus of ten, and the Lakers outscored the Hawks by a hilariously misleading 33.2 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor.
Nick Young had some more advanced stats to add to the discussion.
Nick Young on Ivica Zubac’s rookie debut: "He’s undefeated on this team so far, he’s the only one! That’s 1-0!” (on @SpectrumSN)— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 3, 2016
Those numbers ultimately aren’t sustainable. However, Zubac not only avoiding totally embarrassing himself with the starters, but playing relatively well is an encouraging sign for his chances of eventually becoming a contributor for Los Angeles on a regular basis. If that were to happen, it would be a boon of Zubac-sized proportions for the Lakers.