The LA Clippers have been playing inspired defense lately, and that has coincided with Ivica Zubac being the starting center. This is going to lead to some difficult decisions being made when Serge Ibaka comes back to the lineup.
Ibaka wasn’t brought in to be a backup, but the 11 straight games that he’s missed have featured an LA Clippers defense that’s playing at a much higher level than we’ve seen for most of the season. That level of success might necessitate Serge taking the 2nd center role.
Ivica Zubac needs to keep starting for the LA Clippers, even after Serge Ibaka comes back.
The LA Clippers have played 11 games without Serge, and the numbers don’t lie. Look at some of the stats behind their performance in their last 11 games:
- 5th in Defensive Rating (105.7)
- 6th in Offensive Rating (116.3)
- 3rd in Net Rating (10.6)
- 2nd in Points Allowed Per Game (100.5)
- 7th in Opponent FG% (45.1%)
In the modern NBA, allowing 100.5 points per game over 11 games is an incredible feat, but there’s even more to the story. In the games leading up to Serge’s absence, the LA Clippers were allowing 110 points per game. Inserting Ivica Zubac into the starting lineup has been an adrenaline boost for the Clips.
The additional context is that, with Serge Ibaka hurt and Ivica Zubac starting, the LA Clippers have been playing Patrick Patterson as the reserve center, and he’s not exactly a defensive stalwart. But the Clippers have been that good on the defensive end, that they’ve overcome it to become a top 5-10 defense.
There’s precedent, of course, for the player who’s “supposed” to start taking a bench role. At the beginning of the season, Marcus Morris saw how well the starting lineup was performing and willingly took the backseat to let Nicolas Batum keep his starting spot.
Could Serge do the same thing for Ivica Zubac? Having Ibaka anchor the LA Clippers’ bench defense would be effective, and his spacing could help guys like Rondo and Terance Mann attack the rim more effectively.
But make no mistake about it, the benefit of having Ibaka as the backup center is a secondary reason to do it. The LA Clippers have just been better with Ivica Zubac as their starting center. His chemistry with the superstars is undeniable, and he’s one of the better young rim protectors in the league.
As the LA Clippers get healthier, they’re going to have a tough decision to make with their center position. Ivica Zubac is making a case, and one I think is correct, that he’s the best choice to start in that role.