This is a career-defining year for Ivica Zubac. In a bit of a surprise, the Los Angeles Lakers chose to exercise his third-year option while releasing Thomas Bryant, giving Zubac a chance to redeem a disappointing 2017-18 season where he fell behind in Las Vegas Summer League and never seemed to catch up.
He spent much of his summer playing with the Croatian National Team, as they looked to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Beijing. European basketball is more structured than the NBA, and they run significantly more set plays instead of playing by principle in live ball situations. Zubac’s responsibilities frequently required him to set a ball screen, roll to the rim, and then seal his man in the post. That style plays to his strengths, and he was particularly productive and efficient, scoring 12.3ppg in just 22.7 minutes, on a robust 76.8 TS%.
Let’s take a closer look at how he did.
The desired summer narrative for a player is one where the best elements of his game suddenly click, leaving him poised for a breakout year. That isn’t really the case with Zubac, who looks mostly like the same guy, but he does give reasons for optimism. He appears to have lost some weight and is lighter on his feet, which was a pre-requisite for any success this season after he had difficulty keeping up with the pace of the team last season.
His most significant gains have been on the defensive end, particularly in drop coverages on pick and rolls, where he was fantastic at containing ball-handlers and then recovering to his man. It’s unlikely that he’s ever much of an option on switches, so he needs to become exceptional at what he can do on defense, and he’s made positive steps in that direction.