LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac has adopted a new role as part of Tyronn Lue’s reign in Southern California.
With the NBA’s opening week now in full swing, the beginning of the league’s 75th season carries with it a new manner of optimism around North America, as each franchise turns over a new page after an unforgettable 2019/20 season. There is perhaps no one organization more anxious to forge a new beginning than the LA Clippers – who infamously failed to meet playoff expectations after forming a powerhouse roster last calendar year.
As the side recovered from their mesmerizing exit out of the Disney World campus, Lawrence Frank’s front-office retooled the playing personnel to optimize the talents of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, most notably luring veteran Serge Ibaka to Southern California, as well as trading for – and extending – sharpshooting guard Luke Kennard from Detroit.
A reshaped roster inevitably presents adjustments to many of the roles assumed in Doc Rivers final season at the helm in Los Angeles. One key individual forced to adapt in the primitive stages of the Tyronn Lue era has been 23-year-old center Ivica Zubac, whose two-way strength in the starting unit was exchanged for the spacing and flexibility of the more versatile Ibaka.
With Zubac now falling to the Clippers’ second-unit, the Croatian will adopt different responsibilities that promise to add another dimension to an already potent bench.
Zubac has been immediately inserted as the defensive anchor in the second-unit, where he has allowed his teammates to assume a more aggressive manner of perimeter defense, with the assurance of the former Laker in the painted area. Zubac’s interior presence, combined with his strength against isolation and post-up actions, holds the potential to form an elite defensive focus for the reserve players, which will only grow the unit’s on-court proficiency.
Offensively, Zubac has seamlessly transitioned into the Clippers’ playbook. Zubac has looked confident as a screening partner for Lou Williams and was effective in lineups featuring stretch forward Patrick Patterson. The shooting talents of Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum will only be amplified by Zubac, who can create significant space for the new Clippers through off-ball motions promising fantastic opportunities for perimeter scoring.
No one game proved Zubac’s potential in a reserve role more than Tuesday’s season-opener against the defending champion Lakers. As for Ibaka’s understudy in the Clippers’ first game of their 51st NBA season, Zubac played 27 minutes with a mixture of both reserve and starting personnel to record a +17 while adding an efficient 11 points and 6 rebounds.
Perhaps most pleasing to many fans however may be that, in the 24 minutes that Zubac and new Laker Montrezl Harrell shared the hardwood Tuesday night, the Clippers were +22.
Possessing two defensive-minded centers in Ibaka and Zubac will allow Tyronn Lue to experiment with different units while remaining confident of a shot-stopping presence at all times. This flexibility may prove especially critical come the postseason, where the Clippers will be forced to adjust to the contrasting playing styles of a fiercely competitive Western Conference.
But before playoff action begins in May, Zubac will assuredly only grow more comfortable in his role critical for a dynamic roster ready to write a new chapter of LA Clippers’ folklore in 2021.