In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers held two picks, one in each round. The first made headlines for obvious reasons, as the Lakers drafted Duke forward Brandon Ingram No. 2 overall. With the first round out of the way, fans weren’t sure where the team would go in the second. The Lakers would go on to draft Croatian center Ivica Zubac 32nd overall. All of Lakers Nation would rush to find out more about the mysterious European big man.
Ivica Zubac – Player Profile
At 19 years old, Zubac was one of the youngest players to enter the draft. Standing at 7’1”, Zubac is a skilled center, capable of playing power forward in emergencies. Zubac began his professional basketball career with Cibona Zagreb, the team known for producing Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric. Zubac would move on to play for Serbian side Mega Leks in early 2016, before declaring for the NBA draft just months later. Born in Mostar, Bosnia, Zubac actually represents Croatia at the national level.
How Zubac Landed in Los Angeles
On draft night, Lakers fans wouldn’t have expected the Zubac selection. However, they weren’t the only ones left surprised. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t expect Zubac to still be available when the second round began. The Lakers and Kupchak had highlighted the center as a possible middle to late first round pick. After the draft, Kupchak spoke to the media at a press conference and had this to say on Zubac: “We though he’d be a first round pick and he dropped, and we didn’t think he’d be there, and we’re ecstatic to draft him.”
Kupchak used the word “ecstatic” for good reason, as the Lakers believe they have found a player with terrific upside. Some have even compared the young center to Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol. Gasol, like Zubac, was a second round draft pick of the Lakers.
From the Draft to the D-League
Zubac would head straight to the NBA Development League to start his career. Now at the mid-point of the NBA season, Zubac has played 12 games in the D-League and has been impressive. Due to injuries on the Lakers roster, Zubac has been going back and forth between the NBA and the D-League. Lakers fans have enjoyed seeing the future in Zubac, but the big man would spend his best minutes in the D-League, not the NBA.
Playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Zubac is averaging 15.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. The impressive rookie has become a key player for the 17-5 D-Fenders, when available. Zubac is earning a great amount of experience in the D-League, not to mention the experience of watching from the Lakers bench.
The NBA Experience
The NBA season has been unpredictable for Zubac. Having played 12 games in the D-League and seven in the NBA, Zubac is one place one day, and another the next. This is something the rookie must get used to. Making his first NBA start against the Atlanta Hawks, Zubac would have a tough match-up against former Laker Dwight Howard. Playing 19 minutes, Zubac tallied six points, four rebounds, and one steal. Zubac showed flashes of what Lakers fans can look forward to. NBA fans have seen just a small sample of what Zubac can do on the court.
Head coach Luke Walton was recently interviewed by Lakers-Nation after practice. Walton talked about Zubac’s progress and some of the challenges the rookie faces:
Ivica Zubac is young, big, and fascinating. Lakers fans won’t see too much of the rookie this season, but the future is bright for Zubac and the Lakers franchise.