Los Angeles Lakers rookie Ivica Zubac has a fan in Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in a clear rebuilding stage. Despite signing veterans such as Lou Williams, Timofey Mozgov, and Luol Deng in recent offseason the goal is clear: rebuild the foundation of the team with younger players from the draft.
The Lakers have acquired quite a stable of young players with high ceilings. D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson have a lot of people excited for a variety of reasons. One player that people forget to mention is Ivica Zubac.
The Croatian began his professional career in 2013 at the ripe age of 16 with Zrinjevac Basketball Club in Croatia. The Lakers selected the 19-year-old Zubac in the second round with the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He wasted no time joining his new team, as he signed a contract on July 7 and played for the Lakers’ NBA Summer League team.
Zubac gets lost in the shuffle because he has not been a major part of the rotation yet. Along with Mozgov, the Lakers also have Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson that can soak up minutes at center; even Randle has played some time there when Luke Walton plays small-ball.
Zubac has appeared in only 18 games with the Lakers thus far. A large majority of those appearances have come in garbage time situations. But, when he does receive a chance, he usually performs well.
Zubac has played between 20-29 minutes four times this season, and his numbers were strong. In those four games, he averaged 14.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 assists per game. Two of those games have come against the Denver Nuggets, whose center, Nikola Jokic, is a fan of Zubac.
Both Zubac and Jokic spent time with Mega Leks when playing in Europe. Zubac played with the team in 2016, two years after Jokic last played for the organization. The two didn’t face off against each other often, but Jokic remembers coach Dejan Milojevic talking about the development that Zubac was showing.
Jokic has is now witnessing Zubac’s growth for himself in the NBA. Zubac recorded his first career double-double on January 17 against Jokic and the Nuggets. He finished the game with 11 points and 13 rebounds, adding three blocks, one assist and one steal.
Jokic did not play in the most recent matchup, but Zubac once again showcased his potential. In the second game, Zubac scored a career-high 17 points with six rebounds and one assist, this time in a Lakers victory. Those two performances were enough for Jokic to fully believe what Milojevic had told him.
“He’s really talented,” Jokic said of Zubac. “He finishes around the rim. He can dunk the ball. He’s a good rim protector. He just needs a couple of years to become an NBA player. He’ll be really good.”
“He needs to be patient,” Jokic said of Zubac. “He has a lot of experienced players in front of him. But I think he will be good. He has a bright future.”
The Lakers are hoping that Jokic’s assessment comes to fruition. Zubac has excellent size at 7’1″ tall, weighing 265 pounds. With a playoff berth becoming less likely with every passing day, we could see Zubac getting more minutes as the season goes on.
Zubac has appeared in 11 consecutive games with the Lakers after playing in only seven of the first 42 games. If Zubac is ever struggling with adapting to live in the NBA, Jokic is someone he can lean on. The two followed a similar path to the NBA; the Lakers can only hope Zubac’s skills develop as well as Jokic’s have.