November 10, 2017, 6:37 pm
International Spotlight: Ante Zizic, deep dive into the unknown
The Cavs have struggled this season and injuries to Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert have recently forced coach Ty Lue to turn to his rookies for some much needed contribution. Ante Zizic is one of them and even though he has looked completely lost on the court the sample size is too small to call him a bust. The good news is we already have an idea about his NBA outlook based on his career overseas and his presence at Summer League.
Zizic is sort of a late bloomer as he played his first professional game just before turning 16 years old. He is a legit seven-footer with impressive measurements, a 7’3″ wingspan and a 9’3″ standing reach. Drafted by the Celtics with the No. 23 pick in the 2016 NBA draft he has played for David Blatt and Darussafaka Dogus in the EuroLeague where he averaged 9.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. Blatt fell in love with his demeanor and work ethic and was very impressed by his physical skills and non-stop motor. Zizic is a smart kid and made the decision to join coach Blatt primarily because his team plays with a fast tempo similar to what most NBA teams do.
He was named the 2015-16 Adriatic Basketball Association’s top prospect, averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. The ABA is a league where many current and former NBA stars like Ivica Zubac, Dario Saric, Nikola Pekovic, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic played before making the transition to the NBA.
“I chose Darussafaka because Dave Blatt was the coach there,” Zizic said. “He was in the NBA, of course. He knows NBA basketball.”
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Sustainable Value: What Zizic knows to do and what he will most likely be able to do at the NBA level
Zizic is a relentless rebounder on both ends of the floor. He possesses the physical tools to dominate in the paint and constantly attacks the glass. He has a big yet not so mobile body but understands positioning and will chip in on the offensive end with easy tip-ins and put-back dunks.
Playing at the highest level in Euroleague with Darussafaka he was first in offensive rebounds (3.2 per game), sixth in total rebounds (6.8 per game) and 10th in field goal percentage (61 percent) in just 22 minutes of action.
He generally does a great job boxing out but he will struggle against quicker centers who will be able to outmaneuver him on the post. Here’s John Collins capitalizing on that opportunity for an easy offensive rebound.
Non-stop motor, energy and hustle
One thing you have to give to Zizic is that he won’t stop grinding and coming after you. David Blatt tells a great story about going to practice with a young Zizic who had to hold his ground against 6’10” 250 pound Sofoklis Schortsanitis, a former LA Clippers’ draft pick also known as “Baby Shaq.” Zizic got beat big time but he didn’t quit and stood there taking the hits all the way until the practice was over. That’s the kind of energy and intensity that he brings to the table and why many scouts fell in love with him. You can teach the fundamentals but you cannot teach the kind of mental toughness and resilience Zizic has consistently shown in his brief career.
Skills to be determined whether he can sustain at the NBA level
Shot blocking and defensive ability
Zizic has already struggled defensively and he’ll likely struggle in his entire rookie season as he’s getting adjusted to NBA game speed and pace. He is neither a particularly explosive jumper nor much of an athlete and he will need to drastically improve his lateral quickness in order to keep up with the level of athleticism in the NBA. Since he is a slow and immobile body he has always been better at defending space rather than PnR situations.
However, Zizic understands the game and most of the time just switching and not letting guards just blow by him will be more than enough. Here is an example of great PnR defense although his opponent is also a rookie, the Magic’s second round pick Wesley Iwundu.
The good thing with most seven footers is that even if they don’t possess any length or bounce they can still protect the rim and Zizic will have no problem doing that while occasionally providing help defense. The Cavaliers rank 28th in the league in points allowed per game with 114.2 and 30th in points allowed per 100 possessions with 113.0. Individually, all but one Cavalier has a defensive rating lower than 100. It’s Ante Zizic at 94.4 in just 20 minutes of action in total.
The Croatian big guy is not the most polished offensive player but he sure is a decisive one. He understands mismatches and knows what he wants to do as soon as he gets the ball. He will punish opponents once he establishes position deep in the low post.
Unfortunately, his go ahead move is totally predictable and the lack of quickness will hurt him at the NBA level. The footwork is there but the ball-handling skills are mediocre at best.
After a rough Summer League there was speculation that Boston was willing to let Zizic go and one of the main reasons was his limited shooting range that didn’t fit Brad Steven’s mold of positionless basketball. He is a traditional center that is more effective in the paint but don’t be surprised if he’s able to develop a consistent three point shot in a couple of years. He already possesses a solid mid range shot and his stroke is exceptionally fluid. It’s just that he doesn’t have the green light to do so playing for a Cavs team that has plenty of scoring options.
Limited versatility on both sides of the floor
Even though Zizic has an impressive physical presence, his game is somewhat limited due to his lack of versatility and speed. Plus, he is not the most explosive leaper (his pre-draft no-step vertical measured at just 26 inches). He can only play the center position at the NBA level and even though he is not afraid of contact he struggles against bigger and more athletic bigs. You shouldn’t be expecting him to be a gravitational lob catcher like DeAndre Jordan and he is nothing close to a playmaker.
Based on what I saw in Summer League I would think that he needs to add some upper body strength to be able to be more effective as a rim protector.
The biggest hurdle right now is certainly his inability to catch up to NBA game speed. He can run the floor well for a big but at times he is clumsy and will lose his balance and concentration committing unnecessary fouls.
If he’s on the floor with great offensive talent he will be able to crush the boards, collect offensive rebounds and get put-backs and that’s exactly what his coaches will ask him to do. He is not ready to contribute yet though so only owners in deep leagues should take notice and stash him in hopes of becoming a rotation player in the next few years.
I believe in Zizic as he is a very confident kid that wanted to come to the NBA and play against the best basketball players in the world. Examining the tape is never enough for scouts to get a complete idea for someone’s game. Talking to him you can tell he has the work ethic and the motor to make the move to NBA happen but he has a long way to go until he can establish himself as a reliable big man. The main question is whether he fits the mold of a modern guy; he is just 20 years old and things change rapidly but right now everyone is emulating the Warriors’ style of play which doesn’t include a traditional center. In the pick-and-roll heavy NBA, teams need centers who can catch and finish quickly with either hand, so it will be crucial to consistently deliver these skills if he wants to be more than a garbage time big.