The Los Angeles Clippers finished off the Dallas Mavericks after six wildly entertaining games, and though each team suffered roster setbacks, the Clippers received dependable performances from their center Ivica Zubac on both ends of the court.
Despite being the team’s starting center, Zubac doesn’t usually play starting caliber minutes. Instead, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell sees the larger portion of the center minutes. But, as this series marked Harrell’s first time playing basketball in months, he reasonably needed more time to shed off the rust, which led to Zubac featuring more often.
Zubac played 25 minutes a game and averaged 11.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 0.8 blocks while shooting 65.8% from the field on 6.3 attempts. Looking efficient and composed, Zubac knew his role, stuck to it, and shined for a team that needed him to.
Before we jump into the clip, it’s imperative to acknowledge the net rating Zubac posted this series: +25.6. His offensive rating reached 127.2 and his defensive rating hit 101.6. That’s an absurd differential considering the playoff atmosphere Zubac was playing in.
In this play, Paul George is telling Kawhi Leonard to get to his spot while Trey Burke frantically calls for a switch. Catching Burke off guard, Leonard easily gets into the paint forcing Maxi Kleber to contest. Zubac finds his spot, shows great patience and puts it in with the left hand. A good combination of footwork, patience, awareness, and finishing from the big man.
On shots less than five feet from the rim, Zubac converted on 22-34 attempts, a rate of 64.7%, which is just under his overall field goal percentage.
The combinations I listed above come back into play in this clip as Zubac somehow turns this possession into points at the rim. Without Dwight Powell and Kristaps Porzingis, scoring down low became a simpler task to accomplish. However, Dallas actually defends this play really well despite Lou Williams’ quickly slashing towards the rim.
Tim Hardaway Jr. cuts off the incoming screen, forcing Williams to slash – which Williams won’t turn down. Justin Jackson has the pop from JaMychal Green covered and either corner is nearly impossible to kick it out to. That leaves Williams with either taking a contested layup over Kleber or finding a rolling Zubac.
Williams attempts to lob it to Zubac but Kleber’s deflection disrupts Zubac’s momentum. Somehow, Zubac locates the ball mid-air with a contested catch, maintains good footwork, displays patience with the pump fake and scores despite the contact. You can put it any way you’d like, but that’s outstanding from Zubac.
Zubac played 33 minutes in game six, his highest total in one game this series. As he did all series, Zubac turned in another A-grade performance with 15 points (6-8 FG) and 11 rebounds.
Watching the film on Zubac’s baskets throughout these games, Zubac ate Dallas up when their defense broke down. Zubac would either roam the baseline behind the hoop or stay along the edges of the paint if he wasn’t being utilized as a roll big.
If George, Leonard, Williams or another creator penetrated the paint, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Zubac getting to his spot, waiting to pounce on the opportunity to score against a collapsing defense. You saw a similar instance in the first clip with Leonard getting inside; this time, it’s George.
George, in isolation, gets a step on Luka Doncic with a slick jab step. Kleber comes to assist, but Zubac remains wide open with Dorian Finney-Smith not covering him. George slips the pass between the defenders and Zubac finishes it off with a reverse slam.
Moving to the rebounding aspect of Zubac’s game in this series, he almost met his regular season average. Zubac averaged 7.5 rebounds in the regular season and grabbed 7.0 rebounds in this series. That average dropped because Zubac averaged only 4.0 rebounds a game in the two losses Los Angeles took (in which he played fewer minutes).
Zubac grabbed 11 rebounds in game six, his highest single game total in the series. This specific rebound was arguably the most impressive. Zubac defends Doncic on the perimeter fantastically, forcing Doncic to move the ball as he nears the baseline. Zubac then goes back near the rim and grabs the rebound.
If Zubac doesn’t do what he does on this play, it’s an easy putback for Finney-Smith. Zubac is initially guarding the perimeter but as Doncic attempts to drive, Zubac tags Finney-Smith’s run into the paint.
Zubac uses his body to box out Finney-Smith and is in prime position for the rebound following the miss. Just simple, fundamental basketball from Zubac that potentially saved points.
Zubac isn’t known to be a tremendous rim protector, as he has averaged just under one block a game throughout his career, and blocks are still the go-to measure for rim protection. During this series, he’s just around the same mark of 0.8 blocks. It’s not eye-popping, but it’s still solid. We know about Zubac’s offensive impact in the paint, but he also provided a solid interior presence on defense as well.
Zubac isn’t known for his athleticism either, but he makes up for it with instinctive play.
In this clip, Doncic attempts to slither his way to the basket as his teammates roam the left perimeter. Doncic is able to back Zubac down further to the rim, but Zubac does great to alter Doncic’s momentum. Doncic tries to use his footwork to create separation, but Zubac reads the footwork. Zubac gets caught for a split second, but is able to recover for a block.
Now this was one of the more interesting situations Zubac found himself in. A one-on-one situation late in the shot clock against Hardaway Jr. on the perimeter? Sure, Zubac will take it.
Zubac drops back, giving himself enough room as Hardaway drives downhill. Hardaway appears to trip mid-Eurostep, making it easy for Zubac to swat it away.
While the Clippers were still trying to get healthy, with Pat Beverley out and Montrezl Harrell clearly not himself, L.A. could count on Zubac whenever he saw the court. Landing Zubac in essentially a swap for Mike Muscula is one of the more underrated moves in recent NBA history.
Keep your eyes on Zubac going forward, as his role on both ends will be critical in the success for the Clippers in the playoffs.