D’Angelo Russell froze Las Vegas with the ice in his veins, Larry Nance, Jr. showed he’s the real king of the desert, and Brandon Ingram flashed glimpses of his potential, but the biggest surprise of summer league for the Los Angeles Lakers was the play of Ivica Zubac.
The 32nd-overall pick was expected to be more raw than the culinary fare at one of city’s many high-end sushi restaurants, but Zubac instead shocked fans, analysts, and the competition alike with his smooth post moves, club bouncer like rim protection, and hilarious post-game press conference one-liners.
Well, it turns out even the Lakers front office themselves were surprised by how good Zubac was playing so quickly.
Mitch Kupchak spoke to Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com while Julius Randle, Russell, and Ingram practiced with Team USA, and it sounded like Zubac’s play had the Lakers general manager feeling like he won a million dollars playing the penny slots (Okay, so maybe the permanently poker-faced Kupchak wasn’t quite that excited, but h/t Honi Ahmadian of Lakers Outsiders for the transcription anyway):
Finally, Kupchak talked about the surprisingly great play from rookie second rounder Ivica Zubac and whether he expected him to play as well as he did in Summer League:
“No, I didn’t. When we saw him play in Europe, we were impressed with his individual skills. We really didn’t get a chance to see him play in a game other than film. […] He missed the first two days of practice back in Los Angeles for Summer League. So really, he only had one practice under his belt and our expectations were really low. But once again, he’s a young player that is going to need time to develop as well but I think he’s a little bit ahead of where we thought.”
For some more tangible excitement, let’s go to “The Best of Jesse Mermuys: Volume III (Ivica Zubac remix featuring various teammates)”:
After his first game of Las Vegas Summer League:
“Maaaaaan, the big fella! I was impressed with the big fella. There were times I was like 'man, I can't take this guy off the floor and I couldn't believe his conditioning or where that came from because when he was practicing he did not look like he was in that kind of shape. So I was pleasantly surprised. He could have probably played the whole game. His rim protection was really impressive, and when we got him the basketball he delivered. He had a big time game...
“He has a feel, and the dude knows how to play, there's no question. I don't know, sometimes, if he knows what I'm saying, but then he'll deliver and goes out there and dunks. He goes out there and . He knows how to play. His coaches, whoever they are, I tip my hat to them. They've done a nice job with the young big fella.”
On if Anthony Brown is the best defender on the team:
“It's hard to say the best, because I feel like Big Z has really protected the rim for us and when breakdown's have happened out on the perimeter, Big Z has been great for us as far as protecting those guys...”
On if Zubac should shoot threes:
"Absolutely! Coach Walton is the head coach of this team, we're lettin' it fly, man! We want to empower our guys, we want them to feel confident and let it fly, especially in summer league. If that thing comes to him he's gotta be ready and line it up. And it looks good!"
Reporter: You're pleased that he's doing it and not actually hesitating?
“Yeah! When it came to him, he was ready to shoot and he was knocking them down. He can shoot, it's great.”
On if Zubac is the greatest player in Lakers’ franchise history:
“Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu! Man, this kid is just the greatest player I’ve ever seen. He’s so good it’s honestly inspired me to believe in a higher power. The Lakers should easily win 75 games a year for the next three decades.”
Okay, I made that last one up, but here’s Russell, on if Zubac impressed him:
"Oh my God. I tell him all the time he reminds me of Marc Gasol a little bit," Russell said of Zubac. "A big fella with some sweetness to him, I guess. But he's really good, I don't think people know how good he is yet."
Anthony Brown says there's no reason Zubac can't become Marc Gasol in a few years— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 16, 2016
Ivica Zubac just blocked that ball from hitting a security guard in the head. Kid has active hands— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 16, 2016
Was this just an excuse to empty the Las Vegas Summer League notebook? Maybe....
But either way, Zubac isn’t the only young player Kupchak is “excited” about. He also had plenty more to say on why Team USA is valuable for the Lakers’ young players and what he thinks of their progress this summer, which you can read here.
All non-Kupchak quotes obtained firsthand. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.