Heading into the season, the Los Angeles Lakers had a gaping hole at a position of dire need that they wound up filling with the addition of Tyson Chandler as it appeared the backup center they hoped to rely on, Ivica Zubac, disappointed fairly thoroughly. Then, when JaVale McGee went down with pneumonia, it appeared hole in the roster opened right back up.
When Luke Walton announced he’d be starting Zubac against a New Orleans Pelicans front-court of Anthony Davis and Julius Randle, panic ensued. Then, as everyone would have predicted, Zubac performed tremendously and saved not only the narrative about his season, but quite arguably the Lakers’ season altogether. A four or five-game losing streak in this crazy a playoff race would severely have put the Lakers in a hole for when McGee, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo come back.
Whether that was enough to save Zubac’s spot in the rotation remains to be seen, but he might have figured out the key to turning things around, as he told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
I’m more athletic than the year before. I’m physically much stronger. More explosive. That helps me with contact. When I jump and when I bump into someone, I’m the guy who bumps the guy, not the guy who’s being bumped. So that helps a lot when you’re finishing, and with your confidence. But it’s not that I’m doing something else, I just worked on footwork with Mad Dog, so when I get the ball in pick and roll, what’s the first step? How should I plant it?
It would make sense that with the reliance Zubac has on being bigger than his opponents, he and the coaching staff would focus on his base, as without a strong foundation, he wouldn’t stand a chance at the physicality he needs to take advantage of.
Now, as to what his role might be for the remainder of the season and as guys regain their health, well, that remains to be seen. But it probably wasn’t a good sign that on Sunday that because the Sacramento Kings went small frequently, Zubac was out of the rotation despite Luke Walton saying he planned on playing Zubac before the game.
That said, JaVale McGee has only ever played more than 65 games five times in his career and Chandler is 36 years old. And for what it’s worth, Zubac says the two veterans have been great mentors this year.
If Zubac once again finds himself outside of the rotation looking in, chances are he’ll be expected to step up in someone else’s absence at some point this season, and the stakes will be just as real as they were these last few games. If or when that happens, Zubac will be able to do so knowing he’s done it before.