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.

Sanjesh Singh

Sanjesh Singh

Studying journalism at CSULB. Writer and Instagram Manager for The Kings Herald covering the Sacramento Kings. Featured Columnist for 213 Hoops covering the Los Angeles Clippers. Follow me on Twitter @TheSanjeshSingh

26 Comments

  • Avatar jbugs says:

    Great write up! Zubac is so good. I can’t believe we got him for muscala. One of my favorite trades ever. And his contract could not be any better! He is so perfect for this position and for that price and for that term. He might not get credit for being one of the top centers in the league, but he’s definitely in the top 10 at this point. As far as value is concerned (which is super important at the center position), his contract is definitely the best contract out of all centers in the league. What a great asset to have going into the the current chapter of the Clippers’ journey.

    Another factor I love about Zubac’s contract and value is that we can totally re-sign Trez this summer using his bird rights, build up his value in the first couple of months next season, and then trade him by the deadline next year to further tweak this core of Beverley, Leonard and Zubac (we’ll see if PG deserves to be part of the long-term destiny of this team; I’m totally down to trade him if Leonard is; he’s up there in age, and isn’t the ideal fit). Doc is doing a great job continuing to make Trez feel like the core of the team and building him up as a star. While we all know Zu is the better and more important player for this squad, I’m glad Doc keeps trez center focus enough to keep him bought in and building his value. This tactic worked great with BG, Tobias, and Avery Bradley (don’t forget, we got JMG for Avery).

    One other thing I really want is to re-sign JMG to a longer term deal as a similar rate. I believe Doc overplaying trez helps with this as it results in JMG being underplayed enough that he’s under the radar and not crushing the box score, but played enough that he get’s to be part of the core. Having Bev, Leonard, Zu and JMG under longer term and bargain deals would be a really solid base from which to build.

    • Sanjesh Singh Sanjesh Singh says:

      Thank you! Zubac is massively underrated and that’s a good thing for the Clips going forward. Just need Doc to allocate more minutes his way

    • Avatar chogokin says:

      “One other thing I really want is to re-sign JMG to a longer term deal as a similar rate. I believe Doc overplaying trez helps with this as it results in JMG being underplayed enough that he’s under the radar and not crushing the box score, but played enough that he get’s to be part of the core. ”

      I don’t necessarily disagree, but I wanna raise a couple of issues regarding this point.

      1. Overplaying Trez has a real effect on wins/losses. Even during the regular season we saw how (understandably) winded Trez was when Doc ran him out there for like 20 min straight. The team already suffers defensively when he’s out there at full strength, but he’s abysmal defensively when he’s gassed.

      2. I haven’t heard/seen anything about JMG being unhappy, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to be dissatisfied with his minimized role, given how much better the team plays when he’s out there. This could be a really big problem in the offseason, where we were already kind of surprised that the team was able to re-sign JMG this past offseason. Although his lack of big numbers might scare off the incompetent teams in terms of grossly overpaying him (e.g. Knicks, Kings, etc.), there are plenty of other teams out there that have actually competent, smartly run Front-Offices who are most likely aware of what he can bring, and also wouldn’t be hesitant to offer him a deal and role commensurate with his contributions (I think $10M/season is easily in range for him, especially given how terrible this year’s FA class is looking).

      Anyways, I agree with you in terms of how important JMG is, I just hope we see more of him going forward.

  • Avatar Oodypkt says:

    Great writing, really enjoy to read.
    The clip of him defend and finally block Doncic’s shot is so good.
    We have a gem and he will get better. 🙂

  • lying dog-faced pony soldier lying dog-faced pony soldier says:

    Missed Denver-Utah. It sounds like it was a great game. Excellent analysis Sanjesh, your contributions to this site are valuable. And I appreciate the informed comments by all. This foray by the Clippers toward their first shot at a title, under these conditions, is a wild ride. I didn’t have a strong preference regarding which team we faced in the next round as I was pretty confident the Clips could take either. And Zu is so good and still just a kid.

    • Avatar chogokin says:

      Excellent in that it was very closely contested (eventually). Hideous though in terms of quality of offense. That was some UGLY basketball in the 2nd half, man.