There have been few — and I mean very few — bright spots for the Los Angeles Lakers as of late, and none have shined as bright as Ivica Zubac, who is currently playing some of the best basketball of his young career.
In his last five games, Zubac has averaged 19 points on 66.1 percent shooting from the field, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. In two of those games, he’s scored more than 20 points, with his latest 20-point outing coming against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Along with the 24 points he poured on the Suns, he grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds, including 11 of the team’s 27 rebounds. Following the Lakers’ 116-102 win, Zubac said that his teammates made the game on easy on him, especially on the boards.
“I was boxing out my guy, my teammates were boxing out their guy so their guards couldn’t fly in and disrupt the boards. I just had to go and get it,” Zubac said.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, on the other hand, was quick to give Zubac all of the credit for his big night.
“You’re gonna get little chances here and there and you’ve got to show your coaches that you deserve more, and he’s done a really nice job of that. Every time we play him he keeps playing at a high level, so give him all the credit,” Walton said. “He’s a big part of us winning tonight, but also being able to pull together some wins during this stretch where everyone seems to be hurt or getting hurt.”
Even Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov was impressed with what Zubac showed against his team.
“I like his game and I respect him. I think he showed some decent improvement the last couple months. [He] had a chance to play and he took full advantage of those games that he’s proven he belongs here. He’s an NBA player, no question. He’s young, big body, big shoulders and good frame. He’s from the same area where I’m coming from. I’m happy for my guys,” Kokoskov said.
But it’s not just Zubac’s 7-foot-1, 240 pound frame that makes him such a force in down low, he’s also skilled for a player his size. Rajon Rondo believes that Zubac has done a particularly good job of playing out of pick and rolls.
“He does a great job of getting himself open. Finding the right spots and getting into the creases where the ball can reach him, and he’s able to finish. He has great touch around the rim with both hands, and he’s probably one of the strongest bigs in the game,” Rondo said.
Zubac is hoping to continue his stretch of strong play against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. He said he plans on talking to JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler to prepare for his matchup with Embiid, who he called one of the most dominant centers in the NBA.
Even if he’s outplayed by Embiid in their next game, he’s shown enough to warrant excitement from a fanbase that needs something to cheer about right now. Hopefully he can continue to be that as the season goes on.