When the Los Angeles Lakers began the 2016-17 season, there weren’t a lot of reasons to believe Ivica Zubac would start for the team. The 2017 second-round pick had showed promise during Las Vegas Summer League, but still appeared incredibly raw.
The Lakers had also just spent $64 million on Timofey Mozgov to start at center, as well as re-signing perennially underrated backup option Tarik Black. Lakers head coach Luke Walton had spoken openly about sending Zubac to the D-League for seasoning.
Several months and D-League stints later, Zubac is not only starting for the Lakers, but he’s being given the green light to test out his 3-point shot in real games. Zubac attempted two 3-pointers in the Lakers’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday, and while he missed them both, the freedom to shoot them was just the latest sign that the Lakers think their young, versatile big man is capable of something special.
Even the endlessly confident teenager himself is surprised about how quickly things have come together for him:
Ivica Zubac said he always believed he would start for the Lakers at some point, but didn't expect it to happen so soon, as in this season.— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 27, 2017
Ivica Zubac: "It really means a lot to me. Hard work paid off. I’m going to keep working hard." https://t.co/Yb19NcsS6W— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 27, 2017
Zubac’s hard work has resulted in being moved to the starting lineup, where he’s averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game in March, all while shooting 58.9 percent from the field.
The Lakers’ precocious rookie still has a long way to go until the day he reaches his full potential, but given the expedited path Zubac has taken so far, that day may come sooner than anyone thinks.
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.