LAS VEGAS — As an exhibition tournament, whether a team wins or loses individual games in Las Vegas Summer League usually isn’t place as a high level of importance.
"I take the credit for the loss, and I think I'm going to play better tomorrow,” Zubac said.
If Ron Howard was narrating the Lakers’ summer league like an episode of “Arrested Development,” he would have followed up that statement by stating “He did not play better.”
Zubac has seen his averages take slight declines almost entirely across the board during his second run through summer league, a potentially worrying display of stagnation for the team and its fanbase.
And while the individual results of the games may not matter much in Las Vegas, it’s impossible not to notice Zubac’s issues have hardly mattered as the Lakers’ continue their quest for a summer league title.
The big man himself is aware of his struggles, and has a theory on what the issue is.
“I've got to adjust my game, I've got to run more. This whole summer league everyone is playing a lot faster than last year,” Zubac said, noting that he needs to work on his “footwork and speed” in order to be effective.
“The game changed so much. Everything is different. Everything is faster,” Zubac said.
As the Lakers sped up, Zubac sat down, getting benched down the stretch of the Lakers’ 115-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets, and it wasn’t the first time Zubac has been sat for the good of the team in summer league this year.
Zubac’s averages of 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on 41.2 percent shooting don’t look much worse than the 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds on 64.7 percent shooting he averaged in his first summer league, but the fact that he’s regressed statistically from his rookie debut after playing real NBA minutes is at the very least slightly concerning.
The second-year center says health isn’t an issue for him, adding that he wasn’t fatigued because he hadn’t played a whole lot of minutes or spent time walking around Las Vegas.
So if health isn’t a problem and he still is struggling in a ball-movement heavy offense that has helped nearly every other player on the roster exceed expectations, what can Zubac do to improve?
“When I go to the rim I've got to be more aggressive. I've got to go for a dunk every time,” Zubac said. “If I don't dunk I'll get free throws. That's my main goal.”
Zubac has shot reasonably well from the free-throw line (70 percent) and has shown an aptitude for using Lonzo Ball’s dump-off passes out of pick-and-rolls to get there (his 30 free-throw attempts rank first on the team), one of the few positives to come out of a less-than-encouraging summer league for last season’s fan-favorite.
The sophomore second-rounder is a long-way from 30 points per game average teammate Brandon Ingram predicted for him or the “domination” he spoke about entering Las Vegas. While Zubac acknowledges it’s tough for him to sit on the bench in crunch time and see his minutes decline, he says he’s still happy with the way summer league has gone for the Lakers.
“If that's the way we're going to win the game because [the opponent] is way too small, then we've got to play small ball. I'm good with that,” Zubac said. "We set the goal to win summer league, and we're going to try to do that."
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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.