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Ivica Zubac feeling ‘more explosive and aggressive,’ motivated to take minutes at center

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Ivica Zubac says Luke Walton has been motivating him all summer by letting him know that the Lakers have an opening at center, at that a strong training camp could earn Zubac some minutes.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Media Day Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On a Lakers media day that also featured the official Los Angeles arrival of LeBron James and rest of the team’s new veteran additions and — to a far lesser extent — their latest rookie class, how Ivica Zubac spent his summer was never going to be the biggest storyline.

Zubac knows that he’s flying under the radar entering a make-or-break third season, but if he can trend back towards the usefulness he showed during his rookie campaign and away from the hopelessness of his bench-bound second season, he could quickly become a big story given how lacking the Lakers are in center options.

That void in the middle — and the opportunity it creates — is exactly how Lakers head coach Luke Walton has been motivating him all summer.

“He was saying that the center spot is going to be open and I’m going to have a shot at that spot,” Zubac said. “Luke said everybody is going to get a chance to help the team and that’s what I’m going to try to do. That’s what motivates me the most, and I’m just ready to take what’s mine.”

In order to claim the center spot he thinks he should have, Zubac said he’s been in the gym every day.

“Even when I was not here, I was with my national team back home, and I worked almost every day this summer. I improved a lot physically,” Zubac said. “I’m ready for this season.”

As for what he improved upon, Zubac actually touched on a lot of the smaller, more incremental differences in his game that our own Pete Zayas (aka Laker Film Room) pointed out in his video breakdown of Zubac’s recent FIBA tournament run.

”I’m much better at running the floor offensively and defensively and just helping everybody on defense. I feel much more explosive and aggressive and it’s much easier to get off the ground,” Zubac said, changes he said will help him protect the rim and keep players from getting there as easily.

“Blocking shots is going much better for me than before,” Zubac said. “Guarding the pick and roll, that’s going to be one of my strengths this season.”

Learning to capably guard pick and rolls has been something Zubac has said he wants to do for the prior two seasons, so whether or not he’s made real progress on that front remains to be seen.

He did say the team has liked what they’ve seen from him so far in summer scrimmages, though.

“Everybody was saying that I changed the way I looked on the court, how I move, how I play,” Zubac said, and he’s hopeful it will help him contribute on a Lakers roster the front office has said is all right without without a ton of traditional center options, as well as hoping his growth will fuel his best season yet.

“I think the change is going to be really good for me,” Zubac said.

You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.