LA Clippers in review: Ivica Zubac is the backbone of LA

Ivica Zubac, LA Clippers - Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Ivica Zubac, LA Clippers - Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Much of the LA Clippers, for as long as one can recall, have been doomed by glorified mediocrity, run-ending, hope-crushing injuries and inexplicably bad luck. Ivica Zubac is the one exception.

As a Clipper, Zubac has played in 322 games. The superstar tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George played in 350 games combined. A second-round pick has played in almost as many games as the two megastars (worth hundreds of millions more) did together.

Sure, it is a knock to the unavailability of the franchise’s one-two-punch. But it is also a testament to the unyielding resilience and persistence of the Croatian center.

As the longest-tenured Clipper on the roster, the 26-year-old enjoyed himself a career year in scoring and rebounds. Jumping over defenders and catching well-placed lobs, Zubac averaged 10.8 points this season; boxing out his counterparts and soaring into the sky, the big man logged 9.9 rebounds per game.

Though his numbers or playstyle alone doesn’t quite bring him nationwide attention, the fifth-year Clipper made headlines with a near-divine stat line against the Indiana Pacers in November: 31 points and 29 rebounds.

In pursuit of his 30th rebound, Zubac committed his sixth foul and fouled out of the game. Still, his valiant effort and just as heroic stat line made him the third player in NBA history to record at least 31 points, 29 rebounds and three blocks. Not to mention, it was a clear showcasing of his dominance inside the paint.

But this kind of aggressive and game-changing play when it mattered the most in the first round of the 2023 Playoffs. Against the Phoenix Suns, Zubac’s offensive production took a minimal decline to 9.2 points per game. More noticeable, however, was his impotence with the ball in his hands.

Ivica Zubac’s game shifted in the postseason for the Clippers

Turning the ball over a costly 2.2 times for the LA Clippers, Ivica Zubac looked clumsy with the ball — quicker wings often swiped the ball out of the big’s hands whenever he decided to dribble. Not to mention, switched onto crafty guards like Chris Paul, Zubac looked lost. And against Deandre Ayton, a big who loves to light it up from the mid-range, he wasn’t the quickest, most agile defensive solution.

Outside the paint, he isn’t much of a threat on either end of the floor. Nor can the center make it rain from deep like Karl-Anthony Towns or facilitate like Nikola Jokic. But no basketball player is perfect. And it’s clear that his presence is invaluable to an injury-prone, championship-aspiring Clippers team.

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For one, Zubac doesn’t cost half as much as the likes of Towns or Jokic. For another, he’s a hard-fighting, always-available that doesn’t need the ball in his hands to impact winning. Most importantly, he understands better than anyone the nuts and bolts of the Clippers, and the 26-year-old is only getting better.