Our exit interview series on the 2024 Clippers continues with starting center Ivica Zubac.

Basic Information

Height: 7’0

Weight: 240 pounds

Position: Center

Age: 27

Years in NBA: 8

Key Regular Season Stats: 11.7 points, 1.4 assists, 9.2 rebounds, 0.3 steals, 1.2 blocks, and 1.2 turnovers in 26.4 minutes per game across 68 games played (all starts) on 64.9/72.3 (2.4 FTA attempts) shooting splits (67.1 True Shooting)

Postseason Stats: 16.2 points, 1.0 assists, 9.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 1.3 turnovers in 32.0 minutes per game across six games played (all starts) on 60/65 shooting splits (3.3 FTA) shooting splits (61.5 True Shooting)

Expectations

Ivica Zubac’s role on the 2024 Clippers was clear: be the starting center. That entailed expectations of solid rim protection and rebounding, scoring in the low double-digits on good efficiency, and reliability in terms of games played. With Zu entering his age-27 season, hopes of a true breakout were more muted, even though many fans though Zu could do more on offense than he’d shown in prior years. With almost no competition for minutes on the roster, Zu was expected to log a lot of playing time for a team that needed to have a strong regular season after a disappointing 2023.

Reality

Zu met his expectations across the board in 2024. A strong October, like so many Clippers, dissolved into an underwhelming November as the Clippers tried to integrate James Harden. As Harden’s primary pick and roll partner, Zu had the most work to do in terms of building chemistry and reps with Harden. Game by game, the duo slowly improved, figuring out timing on pick and rolls, placement of screens, and ideal pass spots for Zu to handle.

Zu took off in December, putting together a month averaging 13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds on great 68.4% True Shooting. Zu’s performance on both ends was a big reason for the Clippers’ surge in the middle of that month. That strong performance continued into January, with 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds on an insane 72% True Shooting. Unfortunately, Zu went down with an injury, and missed a month. It is not surprising that that month was when the Clippers’ hot streak began to slow, as their play suffered on both ends.

Zu returned in February, and played the rest of the season, but averaged only 25.5 minutes per game compared to his 28.2 in December-February, and his defense in particular was not at the same level. Still, Zu was solid enough, and the team consistently played better when he was on the court. Then, finally, the playoffs arrived, a time of year when Zu had not always shined.

Zu’s playoff performance was in stark contrast to the rest of the team, who mostly underperformed. Zu turned in the best postseason of his career by far, hitting at least 13 points in every single game. He punished the Mavs’ defenders inside, did his best on defense and on the glass, and helped keep the Clippers in the series as best he could. Even though he scored less than Paul George, Zu’s defense and consistency made him the Clippers’ second-best player in the playoffs, with at least an argument for first. It was a great end to a very solid season.

Future with Clippers

 Ivica Zubac has one year left on his three-year extension, and will bring in a career-high $11.7M next season. However, he’s set up for a payday due to his reliability, age, and production, and there have already been rumors about Zu moving towards an extension with the Clippers to keep him under contract further into the future. While Zu has hit his late-20s, he clearly has several more good seasons left – and the Clippers have zero internal options to replace him.

Thus, even though Zu might be the single highest value asset of any of the Clippers’ players in the trade market (Kawhi’s injury history makes him singularly hard to value), it seems very unlikely he’d get traded this summer unless it was for a blockbuster deal, and the Clippers’ cap situation makes that just about impossible. I would imagine Zu plays out next year with the Clips, and it’s very possible an extension gets done to keep him on the team for the remainder of his prime. I certainly wouldn’t say no to that.

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