Lakers patient with Ivica Zubac, citing rookie’s upside

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first_imgLOS ANGELES — The itinerary changes constantly, leaving Ivica Zubac confused on where to report to that day.“Sometimes I wake up,” Zubac said, “and I don’t know if I’m with the Lakers or the D-Fenders.”Zubac’s answer lately depends on the day.The Lakers’ rookie center has switched between the Lakers and their Development League affiliate three times in the past week. He also plans to play for the D-Fenders on Thursday against Idaho City before rejoining the Lakers for Friday’s home game against Miami. Zubac has often practiced for each respective team twice in a day before reporting either to a D-Fenders or Lakers game later that evening. Walton and D-Fenders coach Coby Karl also raved about Zubac’s finishing, footwork, timing and post presence. Walton predicted Zubac will be “a big part of our franchise.”“It means a lot to see that everybody in this organization is very high on me and everybody believes in me and thinks I’ll be a really good player in the future,” Zubac said. “That can do a lot for my self-confidence.” The Lakers do not feel confident enough, though, on giving Zubac significant playing time just yet. Kupchak and Karl say Zubac has struggled adapting to the game’s faster pace in the NBA and D-League compared with the Serbian League. Karl added the Lakers and D-Fenders are also seeking Zubac to improve on his defensive consistency in the post and on pick-and-rolls, as well as spacing the floor correctly. “Everybody has their point of view,” Zubac said. “But I feel like I can play.” Zubac, who is listed at 240 pounds, said he has lost eight pounds recently after drinking more water while ditching sugary beverages. Team accounts said that has contributed toward Zubac showing significant improvement in his conditioning. Meanwhile, Zubac has tried utilizing his developing hook shot in games while wearing No. 33 in honor of former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Plenty of time awaits, though, before Zubac could offer such qualities to the Lakers. Zubac understands that reality, though he remains determined to change it soon. “It’s always challenging to wait and be on the bench and wait for your chance,” Zubac said. “That’s always a challenge to everybody. But you got to be ready and work hard every day. So when they call your name, you got to be ready.”And in Zubac’s case, that involves remembering which day he will wear either a Lakers or D-Fenders uniform. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorcenter_img “Sometimes it can be tough,” Zubac said. “But I want it. So it’s not that hard.”It has become hard for Zubac to crack the Lakers’ rotation. He has averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.7 minutes through seven appearances. But after seeing Zubac average 16.6 points on 60.2 percent shooting and 9.5 rebounds through 10 D-Fenders games, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has become “very encouraged about his future.”After securing the 19-year-old Croatian from the Serbian League with the Lakers’ 32nd overall draft pick last summer, Kupchak has fallen in love with Zubac’s 7-foot-1 frame and his touch with the basketball. “His skill level for someone that hasn’t played much is pretty high,” Kupchak said. “His jump hooks, ability to shoot the ball and make free throws, understanding the game and passing, I think it’s beyond his years.” Kupchak received another glimpse of Zubac’s long-term potential Wednesday. After showing footage of his four-year college career at North Carolina (1972-76) — which Lakers coach Luke Walton joked was “black and white footage” — Kupchak observed Zubac working on his skyhook with longtime Lakers consultant Bill Bertka. Walton has noticed Zubac has “gotten pretty good at it.”last_img

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