Even though the NBA is moving away from back to the basket scorers, Ivica Zubac offers potential as a post up big. Zubac is a very good finisher as his FG% for 2 years was 70%. He can finish with both hands and does a good job of establishing position when posting up. For a guy that is 265 pounds and is 7’1″, he is very nimble and can go up and down the court. To make up for a lack of lateral quickness, Ivica rushes some of his screens, which can result in an offensive foul or a bad screen. However, he usually sets strong screens and rolls to the basket fairly well. He takes up a lot of space in the paint and can easily get into position to do his work.
At a young age, his post game is surprisingly well developed. The offensive arsenal he carries with that 7’4″ wingspan involves left and right hooks, the classic “up and under” move, and the ability to turn over both shoulders. With improved footwork and added offensive moves, Ivica Zubac could eventually create easy offense for himself. His mobility and soft hands when receiving passes makes him inciting from the pick and rolls and drive and dishes from either D’Angelo or Jordan.
For his size, he isn’t the amazing rebounder that he should be. Still, his natural length and competitive motor gives him a lot of rebounding upside. Being 7’1″ with a 7’4″ wingspan allows him to tap balls in the air and keep possessions alive. Since he is always lurking around the basket, put-back dunks become the norm for Zubac. His boxout technique was also very good for his age. In his FIBA play this season, he was able to grab 14.5 rebounds per 40 minutes. Once he gains experience and learns the tricks to getting NBA rebounds, he may eventually average anywhere from 10-13 rebounds per game.
Feel for the Game:
For a stiff looking big man, there is more to Zubac than meets the eye. He is a very capable passer for his age. He isn’t afraid to keep the ball moving and has some vision as plays develop. Similar to most 19 year old big men, he misses some open shooters, but for the most part he sees cutters and notices help defense. From the high post or when getting a pass while diving, he can read the defense pretty well and find open players. The Warriors system that Walton might implement does require passing bigs, and Zubac is pretty solid in the area right now and may improve over time.
Ivica Zubac seems to have a knack for floating around the rim and putting himself into a spot where he can receive a pass and put it up with that amazing touch that he has. It all goes back to how fluid he is moving without the ball for a 7’1″ guy. He just knows where he needs to be so that he can receive a nice pass. It seems as if the Lakers might have found a good roll man to go with their amazing pick and roll guard in D’Angelo Russell. The pick is making more sense.
At the moment, Zubac’s defense is below average, but he has impressive flashes. Most of his issues come on the perimeter but he can guard players pretty well from ten feet in. He also has shown that he can corral some players to make them change their shot. Defending a big in the paint is where he has more success. Zubac is pretty strong and long, so him standing up is enough to bother players at the rim. He has good timing on his shot block attempts which slightly makes up for his lack of explosion.
Rotations for a laterally slow big should be bad, but he recovers very well. This is why he is a true drop-back 5: he struggles with switching, but his effort level helps to make up for it. His rim protection is below average because he can’t get up fast enough to affect the shot. That said, he was able to block some shots and hold his own when facing some of the top projected players in the next draft. With added experience and hopefully added lateral quickness, his defense could become decent or even good.
In an era that relies heavily on guarding out on the perimeter and switching onto guards, Zubac’s transition may be a rough one. When guarding a smaller player, the key is to have quick feet and move well baseline to baseline. As good a defender as Steven Adams is, Steph Curry cooks him every time he is isolated. Ivica would have a lot of trouble against Curry. There are many times when he is closing out and the player just drives right by him with little resistance. Zubac just gives up because he know that there is nothing that he can do.
Having a lack of explosiveness causes a vertical shot blocker to miss some block opportunities. What makes his perimeter defense even worse is how slow he reacts to the initial move of the player. For the most part, his defense is also hindered by his upright stance. He doesn’t really bend his knees to get in a good defensive stance. Most of these issues can be corrected with experience and vertical improvements, but they will be needed so that he can be less of a liability. Many of his issues are minor, but with a good developmental coaching staff, they can be corrected pretty quickly.
Ivica Zubac’s offensive game is somewhat of a dying skill. He loses his position on the block sometimes because he can still get stronger. His stiffness carries onto the offensive side of the ball. On some plays where a defender is longer or more athletic, they are able to affect his shot. Players that guess what he is going to do on the post can somewhat neutralize his effectiveness. He can’t counter with another move because his current arsenal of moves is fairly limited.
His jumpshot needs work at the moment. Defenders give him some space to shoot, but he doesn’t capitalize when the opportunity presents itself. Although he is a pretty good passer for his size, Ivica Zubac tends to miss some open shooters. Some double teams cause him to force up shot attempts or lose the ball. For a 19 year old, the concerns are normal as his lack of experience and polish is understandable.
Injury history/Lack of Explosiveness:
If you haven’t noticed, a flaw that is constantly brought up is his lack of explosiveness. On offense, his great touch masks the difficulty that he has with getting off the ground. That makes him a lesser lob target, but his length makes potential explosion interesting. On defense, he leaves blocks on the table and his lateral speed is not good at all. His perimeter defense has some good moments, but it is very underwhelming and will be exposed early on. Ivica suffered a navicular stress fracture at age 16 and a knee injury to start this season:
LAL takes Ivica Zubac at #32. He’s 2 years removed from a navicular fracture, the same injury that’s plagued Embiid. pic.twitter.com/id0Uwgdw1z
— Jeff Stotts (@RotowireATC) June 24, 2016
It is somewhat frightening to see that he has had a similar injury to Joel Embiid. It seems to back up some of the concerns with his explosiveness, and it could limit his athletic development. Therefore, it is good to see that his game is much more skilled based and not reliant on his athleticism.
For his age and skill set, Zubac offers everything that the Lakers would need out of a center, minus the rim protection. It makes him a good pick and roll option who is 19 and still has room to improve on the defensive side. Luke Walton runs a pass heavy, floor spaced offense, and with an improved jumpshot from Randle or himself, he will fit into the system better. Ivica Zubac checks a lot of boxes as far as fit goes.
When it comes to comparisons, a decent one for now would be Timofey Mozgov. He is a space eating big that has a very good post up game and takes advantage of smaller players with his length. His role going forward will adjust as his game may need to evolve so that he can play a much more modern 5. As far as his ceiling, Andrew Bogut and Jonas Valanciunas are what I think he could become if he develops right. Both are good rebounders, passers, and can finish at the rim. The Bogut comparison will only be have to see him improve on the defensive end. Valanciunas is a much more realistic comparison as they are both back to the basket players that are good rebounders. Ivica Zubac is a high upside guy that is a steal at the 32nd pick.
****Contract situation/reason why he fell
For the Lakers, it is best to sign Zubac to a 3 or 2 year contract to make him a restricted FA. Giving him 4 years allows him to be unrestricted. If he does break out as a player, it is best to be able to control him for as long as possible. The reason why he fell to 32 was that he didn’t want to be stashed in Europe and his injury history. Those are both minor issues and are enough to label him with the steal tagline.
By far his most impressive defensive series, Zubac gets the first block then gets another off of top prospect Harry Giles. He found the ball and timed both of his jumps right on time. For an athlete that isn’t all that explosive, he really used his length and body to block that shot against a much more athletic big.
Here are 2 prime examples of how good he can be when his body is used the right way. The timing on both blocks is impeccable. Those could have been fouls, but instead he found the ball and got there right on time. The second block shows a good knack to know when to help on defense. He saw that the offensive player had the advantage, so he rotated and blocked the shot.
During certain moments, he flashes the lateral quickness that is needed to stay with some of the more elite NBA guards. He corralled the guard very nicely and made him go around to reset the play. If he is able to bend his knees and follow guards, then his defense will become less of a liability.
The first play is how he can corral a guard to make them change their shot. He drove right but ended up finishing on the left side. Zubac did a good job of denying a side to make him change his shot. The second play is Zubac keeping up with a player so that someone else can rotate on that player. He makes the attacking player pass it out, but the ball gets swung to the big and Zubac closes out nicely.
There was a mismatch on the perimeter, so the guard went to guard his man. The wing player got off the center and went to close out on the shooter while Zubac rotated back onto the big man. This is seamless rotation that demonstrates a little more advanced knowledge of defense. Some of those rotations will be used in the NBA to get him off a faster player.
Zubac has very soft hands when it comes to catching passes out of the pick and roll. He caught a pass that went over the big’s head perfectly and got to an angle to finish the play. This is what the Lakers were lacking with Roy Hibbert as the big man and Julius still learning how to set a screen.
The hands are back! His length allows for him to be able to get some alley ops. He won’t be posterizing anyone but he can use his length to catch balls that are thrown up. His mobility also shines through in how he is able to run the floor in order to get in an open lane.
Remember when I was talking about the feel for the game thing? Well, here it is in all of its glory. The ball goes inside of the paint and Ivica sees the defenders collapse on #6. He then leaks out a bit to create space and a passing lane so that all the guard has to do is give him a shovel pass. With his amazing touch, he finishes the play.
Having a 7’4″ wingspan helps when trying to catch passes like this. The point guard just throws the ball up there and Zubac has to tip it into his hands. Then he has to put it up over 2 defenders, but that touch always comes in handy.
Again, finding space and moving without the ball is an amazing skill that he has. He moves with the ball and other players to find a gap where players can get him the ball. Once he gets the ball in the paint, it is most likely going in. It also means that he will clear the lane if a player is driving, creating space, and gives the player another option.
Yet again, Zubac is moving and adjusting to what the defense gives him. As he defense moves, so does Ivica to get open or create space. The player with the ball gives him a good pass but it is because Zubac created the passing lane. He caught it under the basket but was able to re adjust in order to get a better look.
Zubac finds a hole and the point guard shoots a pass into his soft hands. He uses his body and hip to create space to go up and finish easier. #9 can do nothing to stop him because Zubac uses his body and the rim as protection.
Zubac shows his nimble mobility that allows him to the run the floor so well for a guy at his size. He fumbled the pass but was still able to collect it and finish with his touch. His motor and mobility gives him a pretty high floor as a back up big that can give you something on offense.
A good read by the big man to cut to the basket as the defense was collapsing. Play tougher than given credit for, is able to accept contact and finish through it. Struggles with length at times but his toughness and touch helps to finish through that.
When locked in and playing with energy, he is a tough cover on the boards. He is very good at tapping the ball in the air to control it at its highest point. He finishes with 3 people around him because of his touch and his length allows for him to put it up faster than the defenders can react.
Even though he misses, his motor running at its best is on display here as he fights to get his own rebound. Even though 2 other big men are there, he tries to tap the ball to gain control, as he does at times, but he isn’t able to control the ball.
That is Harry Giles again and Zubac just took his lunch money. He bullied his way into the paint and finishes with left hand with a good touch. This is how Zubac plays when he gets aggressive and wants to be physical. He can get physical.
For someone who lacks counter-moves, he showed potential of developing some eventually. He faked going left and turned right but a defender comes to help. He pump fakes to create some space and he lays it in gently from some range. A shooter was open from the extra defender that came to help but when 3 players all over you, it is hard to see the whole floor.
His play is just him being at the right place, at the right time. The player guarding Zubac is forced to help, leaving a pocket for him to shoot a shovel pass for the lay up.