• Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature on a brand new website which we all hope you will enjoy.

    Coming into the 2016 NBA Draft, the Lakers couldn’t really mess up the No. 2 overall pick, as there were two consensus top prospects and then a whole different tier of promising players. And they didn’t, as they made the right decision and took Brandon Ingram, possibly the most NBA-ready player in the draft. As for their second round pick at No. 32, they took Ivica Zubac whom NBA teams didn’t really have much of a chance to watch the year leading to the draft. An injury at the beginning of the season and the fact that he had to change teams in mid-season due to financial issues lead to him only playing 20 games in the 2015-2016 season. What’s really amazing though is that his stock remained steady almost all season long, mainly because of what he had shown in the past. After an up and down season where he struggled for playing time, some teams felt it would be in his best interest to wait a year before entering his name in the draft but Zubac wanted to play in the NBA right away. He had a very strong finish to the year with a number of big games and put himself in the radar due to his commanding physical presence and an above average offensive touch. The Lakers saw an opportunity to draft a top-20 prospect with the No. 32 pick and selected the Croatian teenager.

    Editor’s Note: You can get the Hoop Ball Premium Membership for FREE (normally $29.99) by signing up as a new user with DraftKings. Check this page to see how the promotion works. 

    Zubac came through the youth ranks of a historic club in Croatia, Cibona Zagreb and made the roster of the men’s team in 2015, becoming a part of a group of young prospects (including Ante Zizic) after the departure of Dario Saric. He played in Croatia’s top-tier level A1 league and in the Adriatic League his first year and also saw action in the FIBA Europe Cup his second year but he was not nearly as ready from a physical standpoint as his countryman Ante Zizic (the No. 23 of the same draft which we examined a few weeks back). His upside though was considered far greater as he showed the better physical and offensive potential while he has the makings of a two way player that can alter and block shots as well as play in the post and hit mid range shots facing up.

    A fragile body frame not up to NBA standards yet

    Listed at 7’1″ with a reported 7’4″ wingspan, Zubac has tremendous size, as well as good mobility but he came into his rookie season with the worst weight/body fat ratio than any Lakers player (263.8 lbs/18.4 percent). He’s not necessarily a soaring, high-flying act, but he’s not earthbound, either and the expectation has always been that he should be able to carry weight going forward. After a surprising rookie season in LA where he adjusted to playing at a faster tempo, Zubac finished the year on another injury note, sitting out the final seven games due to a high ankle sprain. The health concerns have always been there as he already had two major injuries (a broken foot in 2014 and an injured knee in 2015 before getting drafted) while his playing time was always in the low 20’s raising serious questions about his durability and longevity. While players in Europe are more physical due to the style of play, NBA players are quicker and more athletic than their European counterparts and there was never a better proof other than his presence at the summer league this year. Even though he was expected to dominate in Las Vegas, he struggled mightily, and looked out of sync on a team that was playing at a very fast pace. It was also the reason that the Lakers signed Andrew Bogut to begin the season as his conditioning and strength were not at the expected level.

    Zubac put a lot of work during the summer in order to run faster, to move quicker and to jump higher, as he needs to increase his speed and leaping ability in order to switch onto guards who will quickly step back and try to get a shot off. Watching him play you can tell he is still familiarizing himself with his body, as he can’t really control it yet and finds himself committing unnecessary fouls due to the lack of agility. Look at him awkwardly extending his hips into Ricky Rubio for a screen and eventually getting called for the offensive foul.

    After coming into training camp at 282 pounds in his rookie season he is now listed at 240, close to his target goal that will enable him to catch up with a faster tempo.

    Charismatic offensive talent

    Zubac combines a deceptive fluidity with solid fundamentals, backing down opponents and displaying an innate ability to alter shots. What really makes him stand out of course is his natural tendency to score on anyone, since through time, he has developed a good back to the basket game with a nice touch around the rim. He has great hands and a great feel for the game that translates to a strong post game with a variety of moves in the middle. Look at him going to work against Nikola Jokic and using his solid footwork to score with the hook shot.

    Zubac has dominated in the G-League in both seasons putting some impressive performances and developing all the right habits that will help him take his game to the next level. He makes his free throws at an elite level (82.9 and 84.6 percent) and he has cut down on his fouls (down to 2 from 3.4 per game this year) while blocking 2.3 shots per contest.

    What’s even more impressive is how he also looks comfortable catching the ball in pick-and-roll action and making plays in traffic. Look at how he effortlessly throws a tough pass to Jordan Clarkson who cuts to the rim for the easy dunk.

    While Zubac can bring instant offense, in order to become offensively elite he needs to expand his range and become a threat from anywhere in the floor and not just around the paint. He has a simple yet effective stroke while he also gets his shot off real quickly. While he hit a few threes in the G-League last year, he hasn’t taken any with the Lakers because Luke Walton wants him in the middle of the floor, where he can play off pure instinct. The Lakers play at a fast pace and lack consistent three point shooting this year averaging just 9.2 3-pointers per game and the number would have been even worse if it weren’t for Brook Lopez and his ability to spread the floor.

    Defensive game still a work in progress

    Lakers love Zubac’s size and wingspan especially because he is relatively mobile for his size but most importantly, the center has showed a promise as a rim protector in the G-League as well as at the NBA level. But while he can use his size to his advantage, and has shown flashes of being capable of altering shots directly at the rim, he has yet to prove he can excel in team defensive schemes committing 3.9 fouls per 36 minutes while often getting called for the defensive 3 second violation.

    His defense, especially on pick-and-roll situations, needs a ton of work as quick guards will either blow past him or are able to create enough separation to hit shots against him. Here’s Damian Lillard attacking him early on the clock with Zubac unable to keep up with his speed and committing a cheap foul.

    He’s also a solid rebounder who boxes out efficiently and has a knack for creating second hand opportunities out of possessions that seem lost. As expected, Lakers will rarely run a play for him but he’s able to manufacture touches by being active around the rim and outhustling opponents. Look at him once again beating Nikola Jokic for the putback after a bad shot by Jordan Clarkson.

    The truth of the matter is that Zubac isn’t yet a truly great defensive presence but he has the size, the right attitude and a natural instinct for altering shots around the basket and he can absolutely develop into a solid building block for a he team.

    How long until he becomes a starter?

    Rim protection is something that the Lakers need much more of, being one of the worst defensive teams in the league but the team plays at a very fast pace this season, which may not be Zubac’s strong suit. Brook Lopez isn’t the most mobile center either but his ability to stretch the floor helps his fit, while earlier in the season, Andrew Bogut knew exactly how to carve out a role on a fast-paced team after years with the Warriors.

    It may be true that the NBA is no longer a league dominated by giants, but there’s still a place for really tall players, as long as magnitude is accompanied by talent and skill and Zubac is surely one of them. With Larry Nance Jr. in Cleveland and Channing Frye out for the foreseeable future due to an appendectomy I’d expect the Lakers to give Zubac more minutes for the rest of the year. And it will be crucial for his future in the league to finish out the season strong and prove to everyone that his injury woes are behind and that he can be a consistent force in the middle as next year could find him as the starter in Hollywood.

    Hope you enjoyed reading this article and don’t forget to let us know about your favorite international prospect that you would want to learn more about. With fantasy playoffs rapidly approaching, make sure you follow all of our breaking news and rumors on our brand new account @HoopBallFantasy .

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of February 23.

Fantasy News

  • Louis King
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Louis King wrapped up his rookie season with averages of 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.2 steals and 0.4 3-pointers in 6.2 mpg across 10 contests.

    King was on a two-way deal with the Pistons and finished as a top-475 fantasy option. His .364 mark from deep is something to build on but fantasy GMs can keep track from afar.

  • Donta Hall
    PF, Brooklyn Nets

    Donta Hall, recently signed by the Nets, made four appearances in the 2019-20 fantasy season and finished outside the top-425 in value.

    Hall only averaged 12 minutes in those games despite the state of Detroit's roster. He put up 3.8 rebounds, 0.3 steals and 0.5 blocks in that time and is a name to file away given the potential for him to crack Brooklyn's depleted rotation. Beyond this strange set of circumstances, Hall is unlikely to hold fantasy value in the next regular season.

  • Pau Gasol
    C, Free Agent

    Refuting earlier reports, Barcelona manager Joan Bladé says that the team will not be signing Pau Gasol.

    It was reported that Gasol was set to sign a one-year deal but the 40-year-old is still on the open market. We may have seen the last of the big man at the NBA level but he's preparing to play in the Olympics, so expect to see his name pop up in the rumor mill as he looks for his next club team.

    Source: Catradio Sports on Twitter

  • Rodions Kurucs
    PF, Brooklyn Nets

    Rodions Kurucs was the starting power forward in Friday's practice session, per Brian Lewis.

    The Nets have lost basically their entire power forward rotation with Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler out for the Orlando restart. Kurucs should be able to soak up plenty of minutes and we'd expect him to keep the lion's share of work even when Michael Beasley is ready to go. The entire Brooklyn lineup looks pretty fluid given the sheer volume of their absences, but Kurucs could be one of the big beneficiaries. He had a successful rookie season, averaging 8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.9 threes in 20.5 mpg while making 46 starts, but fell out of the rotation this year, averaging just 12.8 minutes per contest in 39 games. Anyone playing fantasy games should probably value Kurucs closer to his rookie campaign given the work available to him.

    Source: Brian Lewis on Twitter

  • Dewan Hernandez
    PF, Toronto Raptors

    Dewan Hernandez, who suffered a severe right ankle sprain in December, says he expects to play in the Orlando restart.

    Hernandez missed the final 37 games of the season and was often seen in a walking boot on the bench. The rookie wasn't really in the rotation to begin with so the fantasy impact is minimal, but it's good to know that he's healthy.

    Source: Austin Kent on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic
    C, Denver Nuggets

    Nikola Jokic posted his fourth straight elite fantasy season and his best season to date, finishing as the 9th best option in 9-category formats.

    Jokic is as reliable as they come with another season of huge popcorn numbers. He scored 20.2 points (a career-high) to go with 10.2 boards and 6.9 assists on a strong 52.8% shooting from the floor and 81.3% from the line. The cash counter output also maintained from past seasons, with 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.1 triples. At this point, Jokic's best asset is his consistency. This is what we've grown to expect from him as someone who always shows up to work. He played every game for the Nuggets this season and has missed just 20 games total in his five-year career. As long as he is healthy, he's money in the bank.

  • Jamal Murray
    PG, Denver Nuggets

    Jamal Murray took a nice step forward in his fourth NBA campaign and approached top-50 value in 9-category leagues due to a large increase in shooting efficiency.

    Murray was limited to 55 games due to a sprained left ankle but performed well when he was on the court. The popcorn numbers were similar to his 2018-19 season, with 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 32.8 minutes. The 25 spot jump to the 52nd player in 9-category format was directly tied to a 1.8% improvement to 45.5% from the floor and a 4.5% improvement to 89.3% from the charity stripe. If he can continue to improve his passing and game management, he can hop into the top-50 with ease going forward.

  • Paul Millsap
    PF, Denver Nuggets

    Paul Millsap maintained his typical per-minute production, finishing as the 97th player in 9-category formats in just 24.4 minutes per game.

    Millsap's minute decline over the past three seasons in Denver have muted the upside he enjoyed during his heyday in Atlanta. In 44 games and a few nagging injuries including a left knee contusion and a sprained right ankle, he put up 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks on good percentages (48.6 from the floor and a career-high 83.3% from the free throw line). Millsap should continue to be a good per-minute producer even if he moves on to a new destination for 2021, but expect the minutes to be the real sticking point as he enters his age 35 season.

  • Mason Plumlee
    C, Denver Nuggets

    Mason Plumlee slogged his way to an unimpressive 2019-20 season, finishing well outside the top-250 in 9-category formats and averaging 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds without much else worth noting.

    On top of unexciting popcorn numbers, Plumlee shot an abysmal 53.6% from the charity stripe. He was a volume play only who didn't really provide anything exciting in limited minutes. Playing behind Nikola Jokic was always going to limit Plumlee's production and keep him even out of streaming range.

  • Monte Morris
    PG, Denver Nuggets

    Monte Morris compiled top-150 value in 9-category formats as the primary backup option to Jamal Murray during the 2019-20 season.

    Morris had a strong season splitting time between backup point guard and fill-in starter when Jamal Murray went down with a sprained ankle. Morris enjoyed top-100 value during Murray's absence and put together a solid line of 8.4 points, 3.5 assists and 0.8 steals in 21.4 minutes. It was a solid campaign on compiled volume, but it was a step back from a top-100 season in 2018-19 where he got three more minutes per contest and made good for two more points with heightened efficiency. Going forward, Morris should be a solid deep-league point guard who can provide assists cheaply without any major weaknesses.