LA Clippers: Why does Doc Rivers refuse to use Ivica Zubac?

Last night’s loss in Atlanta highlighted a question all LA Clippers fans have been asking: Why does Doc Rivers refuse to use Ivica Zubac?

Twitter last night was…unbearable. After the LA Clippers blew a 21 point lead to the Atlanta Hawks, every take in the world populated the site. Some were extremely reactionary and have no merit long-term while others used this poor performance sans three starters to highlight bigger problems with the team. Doc Rivers‘ refusal to use Ivica Zubac is one of those.

Let’s set the scene. Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George were all out due to injury. This left the Clippers shorthanded and forced them to start Terance Mann, Lou Williams, and Landry Shamet, three guys that likely won’t be in the starting lineup when the team is healthy.

In the first quarter, the team jumped out early, outscoring the Hawks 32-16. The second quarter was closer at 28-25 but the game seemed winnable. After a run by Atlanta to start the third, Doc Rivers pulled Ivica Zubac in lieu of Montrezl Harrell, who, granted, was a scoring machine. Zubac had only played 3:33 in the third and would not see the court for the rest of the night.

Trezz scored 9 points in the second half and only pulled down three rebounds. I want to be clear. I’m not here to attack Montrezl. He and Zubac can exist together. That being said, for a player whose game is predicated on being a pure ball of energy, playing 20:27 straight does not make sense. It makes even less sense when the other team is pulling down 13 offensive rebounds in the second half (23 overall).

Andrew Greif of the LA Times asked Doc about this very occurrence and why Zubac didn’t get more run.

Okay, but here’s the thing. This happens when Kawhi, PG, and Beverley are healthy! Zubac also spent most of the game handcuffed to Terance Mann, who god bless him, was a black hole on offense. Justin Russo complained about Doc’s reasoning on Twitter, which I’ll paraphrase.  “Zubac played 16 minutes, 10 of which were with Mann. The team was -11 in those minutes and +13 in the six minutes Zubac was not with him.” Yeah, I don’t get it either.

The Whole Season

Zubac is averaging just 17.5 minutes per game while Montrezl gets 28.8. Trezz is flat out balling on offense, scoring a career-high 19.4 points per game on 57.2% shooting. He’s also pulling down 7.2 rebounds per game. Not bad, right? Meanwhile, Zu is scoring just 8.2 points and pulling down 6.8 rebounds.

We have to go deeper. Per 36 minutes, Zubac would average a team-high 14.1 rebounds. Sounds like that could have helped last night, right?

Let’s look at rim protection. When Zubac is the primary defender at less than 6 feet from the basket, opponents shoot 13.1% worse. For Trezz, it’s 7.8% worse.

Rebounding wise, the team rebounds 96.2% of missed shots when Zubac boxes out. Stands to reason that if he is on the court during that run last night, the Clippers would not have given up so many offensive rebounds, right? He’s efficient.

Again, I’m not saying Trezz is bad. He is a better offensive threat. According to the rebounding data, he boxes out more and the team does recover a good 91.7% of rebounds when he does. But if the opponent is noticeably attacking the offensive glass, why not go with the more efficient and taller player?

There are nights where Trezz is playing well and should get a lot of run. Should he play 18 minutes straight? Probably not. Should he be left in if he’s cooking on offense and not hurting the defense too much? Sure. But Doc can’t just be set in his ways and not adjust on the fly.

The weirdest part of this whole situation is that those calling for more Zubac minutes are a very vocal majority. Doc has to hear it to some extent.

Joseph Raya-Ward has written about it a few times and talked/tweeted about it even more. The guys at Locked On Clippers went on a big tangent about it last night and many other times before. 213 Hoops (formerly the guys at Clips Nation) want a more balanced approach. LA Clippers Film Room points out that if Doc doesn’t trust Zu, then they need a replacement capable of doing more than what he can.

There has been no real explanation outside of the tiny tidbit Doc gave us last night. We can throw our tinfoil hats on and say maybe he’s trying to play Trezz a ton to up trade value a la Avery Bradley but we won’t know that for sure for another couple of weeks. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to hear things like “Oh, the Clippers need more rim protection. How will they handle the Jazz/Nuggets/Lakers/other tall teams?”

When you have an efficient 7’0″ center on your roster, that shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe Doc doesn’t trust Zu. Maybe they are expecting another big to come via trade or buyout who will eat up some of Trezz’s minutes while helping defensively. I don’t know. I do know that something has to change.