An international riser in this year's NBA draft discussion, Ivica Zubac has suddenly become a must-scout prospect for teams picking during the mid-to-late first round.
There was already some initial buzz around him over the summer, when he averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds at the 2015 FIBA U21 World Championship and 15.8 points and 12.9 rebounds during the 2015 U18 European Championship.
He began the 2015-16 season with Cibona before leaving and signing with Mega Leks. And despite the move costing him four months of eligibility, the NBA buzz continued to build.
From January to May, Zubac was able to participate in friendly scrimmages, which NBA scouts would attend. He'd ultimately play his first real game for Mega Leks on May 8. Participating in the playoffs at the moment, he won't have much time (if any) to work out with NBA teams.
|Ivica Zubac 2015-16 Numbers|
|KLS (Mega Leks)||10||9.8||4.9||0.7||1.4||.518||.857||20.60|
|Adriatic League (Cibona)||5||6.8||3.0||0.0||1.2||.577||.571||23.19|
Scouts and executives won't put too much stock into Zubac's small sample size of numbers. He only played 13.5 minutes a game for Cibona and 21.6 minutes in the Serbian League for Mega Leks. He's been efficient in both, though, shooting at least 51 percent from the floor in each.
On May 24, Zubac had his best game of the year, scoring 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting. Otherwise, his rebounding rates are uninspiring and his block rate is relatively average.
At 7'1", 265 pounds, Zubac is easy to spot. He blends giant size and strength with mobility, picking up easy buckets in transition by beating the opposing team's anchor down the floor.
His offensive game isn't flashy, but it is effective overseas; Zubac uses his nimble feet and soft hands to catch and finish out of different situations.
A wide screener who's tough for defenders to navigate around, he's also a big, moving target in the pick-and-roll game. He does a nice job of diving to the hoop, gathering and converting in traffic, and he has a good feel for where the rim is when forced to quickly turn and release.
Zubac has developed into an option his team can feed in the post, where he leans on strength to gain position. He taps into his footwork to separate and one-handed touch to convert over either shoulder. He's slippery as well, having created a number of highlights off quick baseline spins.
At this stage, Zubac isn't an advanced defender, but between his physical tools and foot speed, the potential to eventually provide rim protection is there.
Zubac isn't bouncy or explosive; he projects as a below-the-rim big man. He also has a 2014 foot stress fracture on his injury history, something teams will surely look into.
Though a fluid north-south runner, he's not as smooth moving side to side. Zubac doesn't look like an asset in pick-and-roll coverage, and for a rim protector, he doesn't block many shots.
Offensively, he's made some impressive passes, but he's only totaled seven assists in 15 games. You won't see him face up and put the ball on the floor, either, which makes him a more predictable cover. His jumper also lacks range and isn't a threat to stretch the floor.
Without great athleticism, shooting potential or defensive instincts, he'd have to defy all odds to become anything more than an average starter, the way Marc Gasol did with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Listed at 7'0", 265 pounds, Kaman shares almost identical size, mobility and lack of bounce. He managed to hold down a rotation job for over 10 seasons based on his ability to convert opportunistically when the ball found him in scoring position.
Zubac doesn't project as a team's go-to option, but he can capitalize one-on-one with his back to the basket. And like Kaman, he racks up free points off timely rolls and dives within the offense's system and flow.
Kaman was also capable of making shorter jumpers. In 68 games dating back to 2013, Zubac has shot a career 70.8 percent from the line, which suggests similar mid-range shooting potential.
He'll need the right fit and opportunity, but down the road, Zubac should offer starting-caliber talent. Physically, there won't be too many centers who can match his size and length. And given his wheels, the new small-ball era shouldn't phase him out.
Between his efficient offensive game and room for growth defensively (still 19 years old), it's not crazy to think he can eventually anchor a first unit.
Given the number of teams that could use upgrades at backup center, Zubac and his monster frame should be able to stick somewhere. Even if he fails to add versatility, his ability to create quality looks down low and position himself for high-percentage finishes should be enough.
Zubac has an NBA out in his contract this summer, according to his agent, . Depending on where he ends up, a team might want to stash him overseas, where he'll get more playing time in 2016-17.
Either way, assuming Zubac keeps his name in the draft, expect a general manager to select him in the 20s, and for Zubac to eventually make his mark in the league by year No. 3 as a future role player.