Los Angeles Lakers center Ivica Zubac was a bright spot in an otherwise ugly game against the Denver Nuggets.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in full-on tank mode and with good reason. The Lakers need to land a pick in the top three of the 2017 NBA Draft or they will lose that pick, in addition to their first-round pick in 2019. As a result, the Lakers have fully embraced the tank and youth movement.
With the goal clear, the Lakers have made some drastic moves. Veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, both starters at the beginning of the regular season, have seen their roles diminish as the season as wore on.
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They were removed from the starting lineup and made rotation players, but now they are out of the rotation altogether.
Deng has not played since Feb. 28; Mozgov has only played twice since Feb. 6. The Lakers are committed to giving their younger players extended minutes to gain experience; they also know losing games will help the team in the long run.
That was part of the motivation to trade Lou Williams at the NBA trade deadline.
One player that has produced with the extended playing time is center Ivica Zubac. The Lakers selected Zubac with the 32nd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old Croatian was brought along slowly, as he didn’t begin playing consistent minutes until late January.
The Lakers are now reaping the rewards of giving him playing time.
The Nuggets seem to bring the best out of Zubac and Monday was no different. For the third time in as many games this season, Zubac had an awesome game against the Nuggets.
In the first two games against Denver, Zubac averaged 14 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. He was able to reach those numbers this time alone, as Zubac had his way with the Nuggets on the interior.
On Monday, Zubac poured in a career-high 25 points. He went 12-of-15 from the field as Denver had no answer for him. He also added 11 rebounds, registering his fourth double-double of the season. He also added one assist and one block.
Zubac was one of the only bright spots for the Lakers against the Nuggets. Jordan Clarkson scored 19 points, but Los Angeles was blown out of the Pepsi Center, 129-101.
While losing like that gets old quick, the Lakers know that it is the best course of action for now. They cannot afford to miss out on draft picks like that. There will certainly be more losses in the future for the Lakers, but there are some positives to it.
The Lakers have a chance to see what players like Zubac really have, giving them starters minutes even if it means more losses. The Lakers have nothing to lose giving big minutes to players such as Zubac.