Clippers’ Ivica Zubac seems extra comfy in new function off the bench

Clippers heart Ivica Zubac is fouled by Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton on Wednesday at Staples Middle. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Occasions)

Final fall, no Clipper departed the league’s postseason bubble close to Orlando, Fla., precisely pleased with what had taken place. But when there was anybody who had cause to look again with a measure of fondness, it would have been Ivica Zubac.

It wasn’t solely that the 23-year-old, 7-foot heart had averaged 9.1 factors, 7.2 rebounds and 24 minutes in 13 breakout playoffs video games, whereas incomes reward for the best way he complemented Kawhi Leonard and Paul George offensively whereas backstopping their protection on the rim. It was the timing. Only one season earlier, throughout his first postseason look, he’d been benched.

But as the brand new season approached final fall, Zubac realized from new coach Tyronn Lue that his beginning job would now go to free agent Serge Ibaka, a floor-spacing, rim-protecting veteran.

“I took that as a problem,” Zubac stated.

And it has been one at instances.

This season, Zubac has averaged as many minutes, almost as many factors and a better capturing proportion, but hasn’t appeared totally comfy whereas adjusting to his new function and studying the tendencies of his new lineup companions. As an alternative of anchoring a protection led by three former members of the league’s all-defense groups, Zubac’s rim safety took on even higher significance enjoying with a reserve unit that has usually featured leaky perimeter protection.

His rebounding common dropped by three boards a recreation, and thru 15 video games he has registered a detrimental web ranking — the distinction between factors scored and allowed with a participant on the ground per 100 possessions — for the primary time since his rookie season.

“I believe he struggled early on simply due to enjoying with new, totally different guys, simply having to attempt to discover his method and area of interest in that second unit was powerful early on,” Lue stated Wednesday, after a 115-96 victory against Sacramento that prolonged the Clippers’ successful streak to 5. “His perspective, so far as simply seeing what we needed him to try to be keen to do, he was nice with that. He’s nonetheless adjusting. We are attempting to regulate and get him in with the starters just a little bit extra, as a lot as we are able to. Simply attempt to make him really feel extra comfy.”

Zubac appeared it Wednesday in opposition to the Kings in what was his simply his most impactful efficiency so far.

He scored 11 factors, grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds and appeared to achieve rhythm after being performed in lengthy, unbroken stretches — almost 11 consecutive minutes within the first half, adopted by almost 12 minutes within the second, with a mixed plus-minus of 11. He was plus-11 throughout an almost four-minute stretch to shut the third quarter alone, a span that included a tricky layup and foul that induced Leonard to boost a fist aloft in celebration and Patrick Beverley sure off the bench with a clap.

At 11-4, the Clippers personal the franchise’s third-best report by 15 video games.

“Zu simply doesn’t understand how dominant he could be,” George stated. “You neglect how younger he’s, he’s nonetheless a child. However it’s on us to proceed to provide him that constructive reinforcement. Simply inform him to maintain going. You recognize, particularly in second models that he’s enjoying in opposition to … it’s very uncommon that you just discover bigs which are his measurement within the league at the moment. And in order that’s what I believe is likely one of the greatest benefits he has. So he’s simply received to personal it, personal being the largest man on that ground.”

Zubac’s eight defensive rebounds helped the Clippers seize 42, one off their season excessive and 9 greater than their season common, which ranks among the many lowest within the league.

“One in every of my roles is rebounding the ball and never giving up offensive boards, and I really feel like I could be among the best within the league at that,” Zubac stated. “I simply received to deliver power, received to field out on each possession and I felt like I did not do a fantastic job with it to begin the season. However I believe I am getting higher at it.”

Zubac stated he considered his shift in function as “no matter they want me to do, I’ll assist.” For steerage, he may have appeared no additional than the profession arc of teammate Lou Williams. It was not Williams’ alternative to return off the bench throughout his first NBA seasons, nevertheless it was his resolution to make the very best of the state of affairs that helped him develop into the league’s all-time main scorer off the bench. What the Clippers want Zubac to do now’s play as he did in opposition to Sacramento extra usually.

“His thoughts remains to be in it, despite the fact that he is coming off the bench,” Leonard stated. “He is been coming in with excessive power nonetheless, nonetheless the identical character, and, you understand, I admire that from him. Quite a lot of guys get down after they lose their beginning place however you understand he is all about successful.”

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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