Ivica Zubac has big goals this NBA season. He wants to be an NBA Champion, he wanted a 30/30 game during a 31-point, 29-rebound performance, and he wants to be on an NBA All-Defensive Team – it’s Ivica Zubac’s year, his ZubacCaissance.
“Making the NBA All-Defensive team is something I’m really working towards,” Zubac said to AllClippers. “It’s one of my goals coming into the season, just being as best defensively as I can be. If that’s enough for one of the All-Defense teams, that would be amazing. I want to show people that I’m capable of that and for sure that’s one of my goals.”
These aren’t just empty words for Zubac either, the development that the young Croatian center has shown defensively is tremendous. Here’s a list of things Zubac is doing defensively this season:
- Contesting 44% of shots at the rim
- Blocking 31% of shots at the rim
- Has players shooting roughly 20% worse than their average at the rim
- Has players shooting 12% worse than their average when 10 feet from the rim
- Allows the lowest field goal percentage at the rim in the league
- Has the Clippers ranked 2nd in Defensive Rating
- Ranked 6th in blocks per game
- Ranked 4th in total blocks
Zubac is putting it all together as a defensive anchor in a way that no one else is doing this season. While some players get the glamor of guarding individual matchups, Zubac stays within his role of being that big anchor. He has to cover for other players, stay home at the rim, and take on multiple switches – skills he developed over time.
“After a few years in the league when you kinda realize what your role is, what you’ve gotta do, that’s when I realized defense is something I can do at a high level,” Zubac said. “Every year I feel like I progressed and I’ve progressed with experience and my body. I feel like I made a step in the right direction every year, and this year is finally the year where I can put it all together.”
Part of what allowed Zubac to make such an immediate impact this season was his time with the Croatian national team. It kept him in shape and highly conditioned in a way that clearly shows on the court – Zubac has easily been the Clippers’ most consistent player all season.
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“I was working out with the national team and spent a lot of time in the gym,” Zubac said. “Individual workouts in the morning, practices in the night, it was a lot of two days that helped me with my conditioning. I returned in really good shape. I can do it for a high level at long stretches of time. I feel like I was doing it the last few years, but my conditioning wasn’t really there. I couldn’t do it for long periods of time.”
For Zubac, winning the award isn’t just about the title, it’s about proving his doubters wrong. He remembers every single critic who questioned his defense, both in the European leagues and in the NBA. It’s given Zubac that extra chip on his shoulder, to keep the fire going.
“When I came through the youngest categories in Europe, everyone was always questioning my defense,” Zubac said. “Coming into the league that was always one of the questions about me on the defensive end of the floor. Just proving people wrong and proving to myself that I can contribute to defense really means a lot to me. Helping my team be one of the best defenses in the league. It’s something we pride ourselves on here.”
Whether or not Zubac gets the credit from analysts during the season doesn’t change how hard he’s going to work defensively. No one is a harsher critic of the young center than himself.
“I think people are talking about it more, it doesn’t really change much for me,” Zubac said. “I still get on myself a lot when I miss a coverage, late for help, late for a rotation, or someone scores on me. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and I’ve just gotta keep on working. With time and experience, it’s only going to keep getting better.”
Over the past few years, the NBA All-Defensive team has been somewhat dominated by reputation, and by players who can do it attractively enough to average 20 points a game at the same time. It’s harder for players who don’t have that reputation to break into the team, but that’s where the credit needs to be given to Ivica Zubac and needs to be given early. Players like Rudy Gobert have that recognition, and now Ivica Zubac deserves his.
Defense is sometimes a rewardless game, it’s the part of basketball where your back is always turned from the fans and you’re doing the dirty work – like a conductor of an orchestra. Very few players are conducting their team’s orchestra as well as Ivica Zubac, and his symphony should be paid attention to.
“I would love to be on an NBA All-Defensive team.”
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