The Los Angeles Lakers are struggling. In November, the team looked set to exceed expectations. Sitting at 10-10 heading into December, Lakers fans began to talk about the playoffs. Unfortunately, December would see the start of a painful descent down the standings. Winning just two games to end 2016, the team would continue to slip in the New Year. Currently standing at 16-34, the once hopeful Lakers are now beginning to think about the draft, not the playoffs.
The Lakers Should Start Rookie Ivica Zubac
The Mozgov problem
With six-year NBA veteran Timofey Mozgov struggling in Los Angeles, it’s time to make a change. The big Russian is currently averaging 7.6 points and 5 rebounds per game. This sort of form has led to many Lakers fans questioning Mozgov’s four-year, $64 million contract. These struggles couldn’t have come at a worse time for the big off-season signing, as rookie center Ivica Zubac has emerged from D-League player to regular contributor. Zubac would go from averaging 6.8 minutes in December to 16.4 so far in January.
Mozgov, 30, likely peaked during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 7’1” Russian is still useful for the right team and could be a part of a trade when the deadline arrives. Although general manager Mitch Kupchak has suggested that the team will likely remain inactive in trade discussions this season.
Mitch Kupchak looked ahead to upcoming trade deadline + told me no one was untouchable in this league but he liked the Lakers' current mix.
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) January 6, 2017
What Zubac has done well
Coming off the bench on all but one occasion, Zubac has proved he can play at both ends. In 15 games this season, the 19-year-old Croatian center has averaged 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds. However, Zubac recent minutes increase has led to the youngster’s production going up. January has been Zubac best month so far, averaging 7.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. It’s only a matter of time before head coach Luke Walton will be forced to make a decision on Zubac’s place in the rotation.
Unlikely to jump out of the gym, Zubac makes up for his lack of athleticism with skillful play in and around the paint. Compared to Marc Gasol before the draft, Zubac has suddenly become very useful. Screen setting, spacing the floor well and finishing when called upon are three aspects Zubac has done well in his short stint with the team. Expect the young Russian to continue to be a part of the Lakers team this season and beyond, as it appears the second-round draft pick is quite the steal.
Why the Lakers have nothing to lose by starting Zubac
The Lakers have fallen into a hole they can’t get out of. After a relatively promising start to the season, Walton’s Lakers find themselves at the wrong end of the standings. However, there are huge benefits to the Lakers poor form. If the Lakers fail to retain their 2017 first-round draft pick (top-3 protected), then the team will lose their 2019 first-round draft pick also. 2017 will go to the Philadelphia 76ers and 2019 to the Orlando Magic. So if the Lakers end up securing a top-three selection, the team would retain both future picks.
Zubac would be an ideal change for Walton. Seen as less NBA ready than Mozgov, Zubac could help the Lakers secure a top-three pick. All that matters is game time. The likes of Zubac and fellow rookie Brandon Ingram will benefit from as many minutes as possible. If you’re struggling to understand the concept, then this tweet from former USC Football wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster should help.
Went through the darkness to get to the light ⭐️
— Juju Smith Schuster (@TEAM_JUJU9) January 26, 2017
Above is a tweet which describes the Lakers going forward. There is a ton of young talent on this roster and all that’s needed is patience and time. You need to go through the tough, frustrating times to reach the good times.