4. Ivaca Zubac
Another big the Clippers acquired at the February trade deadline, Ivica Zubac, forlorn Laker, perked up considerably once he was playing for a functional franchise. In 26 games with the Clippers, the 22-year-old Croatian averaged a nifty 9.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in just 20.2 minutes per game.
Zubac, despite being a solid 76.1 percent career free throw shooter, has yet to expand his range out to 3-point territory. However, after the turmoil of being benched in the playoffs and routinely derided by the public sideshow that is the Los Angeles Lakers, Zubac has channeled his motivation into expanding his game:
Now, shots in an empty gym don’t mean anything, but seeing the work done is what matters. The problem with all this is that Zubac is a restricted free agent, meaning the Clippers can match any offer sheet he signs. Luckily for the Timberwolves, the Clippers have grand free agent aspirations, and may well use up their cap space on max guys. Would owner Steve Ballmer go into the luxury tax to re-sign a backup center?
For Minnesota, signing Zubac would be a bet on his youth and potential. A 2016 second round pick by the Lakers, Zubac didn’t see consistent playing time until he was traded to the Clippers. Even if he never becomes an in-game threat from deep, he rebounds well and has solid footwork for a seven-footer.
He does play the same position as Towns, which limits his window to playing more than 20 minutes a night, but getting Zubac is a hedge against further Gorgui regression and a bet on an intriguing and unexpected KAT-Zubac pairing to discombobulate opponents the way Toronto’s Serge Ibaka–Marc Gasol lineups did this postseason.
Besides, when Gibson and Towns shared the floor last season, most teams would guard Gibson with their center and Towns with their power forward anyway; trying to inject that same split with a 22-year-old instead of the 34-year-old Gibson would be tantalizing.