If you watched Saturday's Philadelphia 76ers/Los Angeles Lakers Summer League game, you should remember one play more than any other. In the third quarter, Jerami Grant of the 76ers got the ball on the baseline. He drove, and went up. Ivica Zubac rotated over to stop the play. And he......did not stop Grant.
Zubac joined the ranks of guys like Kendrick Perkins, Brandon Knight, and Timofey Mozgov as dunk victims, and it happened before he even officially played an NBA game. Several jokes were had at his expense, including some Wikipedia tomfoolery, as is customary:
If this was the only thing you took away from this game about Zubac, though, you missed a pretty impressive performance for the 32nd pick of the NBA draft. Zubac finished with 7 points on 3-7 shooting, eight rebounds, and a block in 22 minutes, and was a major reason that D'Angelo Russell was able to get hot in the second half, routinely helping free up Russell for open looks with solid high screens. He flashed a couple of really nice post moves, including a fading turnaround jumper, and he defended particularly well one-on-one.
Zubac has become somewhat of a cult hero for the Lakers, and he's embraced joining this young Lakers' core. A long-time Lakers fan who owns Kobe, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum jerseys, Zubac endeared himself to Lakers fans immediately. A fiery competitor, Zubac is endearing because of his willingness to impose his size on the offensive end, and he doesn't shy away from situations where he has a disadvantage.
The Grant dunk was an example of that going poorly, but earlier in the game, he successfully defended Ben Simmons on two baseline drives. Simmons, the top pick and an athletic freak, generated a switch onto the slower Zubac on two separate occasions. Simmons took chances to back up and try some fancy dribble moves to lull Zubac to sleep before using his explosiveness to get past him. Zubac remained calm, though, and used his length, upper body strength, and ability to recover to force Simmons to alter both shots at the rim, and Simmons was 0-2 for his efforts.
Zubac has shown that he belongs right with Larry Nance Jr, Russell, and Brandon Ingram on the Lakers' summer league team. He also had 11 points and five rebounds in a strong performance in the Lakers' summer league opener against the New Orleans Pelicans, and he's shown flashes of being a useful, mobile NBA big, even if he's been a bit foul-prone and struggles with timing on the offensive end at this point. Those things are fixable, though, and will come with more experience.
More than anything, though, Zubac has had a ton of fun at Summer League. He has developed a strong relationship with Nance, his big partner who has helped him adjust to the NBA game. "He tells me where I should be, what I should do, everything," Zubac said of Nance after the game, and on the court it's obvious that Nance's constant talking and direction has an impression on Zubac, especially when he operates in the pick-and-roll, a relatively new wrinkle of his game that Zubac is being asked to add. Zubac also draws from Nance's energy, saying "[He's] great, every time when someone is down he comes to that guy, says good things, and after that, you feel better after that, and you play better."
He also isn't letting the dunk get to him. "I did [die] a little bit," Zubac said jokingly, after being asked about the Wikipedia change. But he didn't die on the court, as he came back a few possessions later and scored a tip-in over Grant and buried an 18-footer on back-to-back possessions. He also helped continue a strong defensive 2nd half for the Lakers, helping to fuel a 16-point comeback with solid play on the interior. All while the large contingent of Lakers fans present cheered him on.
Lakers fans have embraced Zubac, and it appears that he's embraced them as well. When asked about the crowd, Zubac said, "It's great. Sometimes I don't even hear it because I'm in the game and I'm really focused, but when I hear it, I just smile."
It's Summer League, and fans do get attached to fun players at this event every year for various reasons. But given Zubac's play so far, and his infectious personality, this is a fan-player relationship that should continue for a long time.