The Los Angeles Lakers made some folks scratch their heads when they traded Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley to their crosstown rival, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Reports indicate that the Lakers’ front office wasn’t high on the third-year player. According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, in fact, the 7-foot-1 center was offered in a trade to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Tyler Lydon earlier this season. Zubac was also included in trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the massive package for Anthony Davis.
But the rationale hardly makes sense considering how well he’d played when given an opportunity. He had two games with at least 20 points last month as well as four games with at least 10 rebounds between December 21 and January 27. Plus, the young player is still on a cheap, contract. Perhaps they were nervous about paying him a future contract extension?
Los Angeles outscored opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions when Zubac was on the court with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma this season. The defensive rating (86.0) of that group was astonishingly better than any of the four-man lineups that the Lakers have used for more than 70 minutes thus far.
Zubac, meanwhile, has averaged 1.09 points per possession for Los Angeles. That ranks in the 88th percentile among all players, per Synergy Sports.
He has scored 15.6 points in the paint per 36 minutes, which trails just seven NBA players (minimum: 400 minutes) this season. With more playing time, it is possible we could have seen this kind of production on a larger scale.
While he hadn’t shown these flashes lately, Zubac was also an above average midrange shooter during his rookie campaign. He was 21-for-42 (50.0 percent) on all midrange looks back in 2015-16. Only three NBA centers with as many attempts were more accurate, with one of those players being Denver sharpshooting big Nikola Jokic.
The big man has also been exceptional for Los Angeles when it comes to crashing the boards to pull in offensive rebounds.
According to Cleaning the Glass, he had an offensive rebounding rate that ranked in the 84th percentile among all players at his position. Last season, Zubac ranked in the 89th percentile in the same category.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 21-year-old Croatian-born player was a strong shot blocker for the Lakers. He ranks No. 7 overall (minimum: 500 minutes) in block percentage among all players in the Western Conference.
While it landed them some shooting help with Mike Muscala, it was a big gamble trading away Zubac considering how efficient he had been on both sides of the ball. He may not have returned more in a trade, but he could have developed into a solid rotation piece.