Okay, I’m going to be honest. I know very little about Ivica Zubac. In the lead up to the draft I took a cursory look at the big man, but did not see him lasting to the Lakers’ selection at #32. After all, he was the #19 prospect in Draft Express’ top 100 and #25 on Chad Ford’s Big Board. There was a chance he’d be there, but I imagined some team with multiple first round picks (Celtics, 76ers) would take him and leave him in Europe to season a bit more.
But with the overall supply of big men being too big compared to the needs of the teams in the draft, Zubac was there at pick #32 and the Lakers snatched him up. So, what do we know about the young Croatian?
First, Zubac is only 19 years old. So he’s not a very experienced player and due to a meniscus injury and contractual issues this season, he did not play a full season in Europe. Second, he is BIG. He is listed at 7’1″, 265 pounds and has a 7’4″ wingspan. With these physical tools alone, he is an intriguing prospect who seems to project, at minimum, as a space eater who can be a presence in the paint on both ends.
His upside, per scouting reports, is on the offensive side of the ball. He’s said to have good hands and can finish with both hands with soft touch around the basket. He looks to move fairly well in the P&R as a roll man, offering a large target for entry passes and who, with his size, can set some solid screens. Athletically, however, he only looks average at this point, lacking explosion, especially in tight spaces. However, with his sheer size and standing reach, he looks as though he can still finish well enough — though with a head start or when already on the move his ability to do so above the rim improves greatly.
I have already mentioned some of his weaknesses, but what stands out in the tape I have seen is how the combination of his lack of plus athleticism and experience limit his ability to play up to his size at all times. Defensively he plays too upright which hurts him when trying to slide with offensive players on the perimeter (especially in the P&R). Playing upright also allows offensive players to get into his body too easily which leads to him being dislodged or knocked off his spot.
You can also see how his lack of explosiveness limits his offensive ability, especially when finishing in tight spaces with similarly sized players defending him. Better athletes also have the ability to challenge his shots, especially when rotating towards him from the weakside. We will see if, with age, he can refine his craftiness and better leverage his size, but he’ll need to be able to do so at the next level to reach his potential on that end.
With more playing time and the experience which comes with it, the hope would be that his technique and awareness on defense will improve. You would also hope that, as he ages and gets into the Lakers’ strength and conditioning program, he will improve his physicality and learn to better use his large frame. With better fundamentals and a stronger body (remember, he’s only 19), he will be harder to move when anchoring and can leverage his length and natural size to his advantage.
Overall, I do like this pick. Per pre-draft rankings, this kid is fairly well thought of. He has very good physical tools and also plays a position of need. He shows some qualities that cannot be taught — good hands, good footwork, and a good feel for offensive basketball. The hope is that the things he currently struggles with will improve with age and experience, better training, and good coaching.
Per Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, Zubac will come over this year and not stay in Europe, so his development clock under the Lakers’ watch can begin right away. I’m tentatively excited to see how that process goes.