In the recent four game stretch the Lakers have managed to survive the Bulls, defeat the Thunder, lose to the referee led Rockets, and get blown out at home against the Warriors but in all four games Ivica Zubac has exploded onto the scene with tough quality play on the interior.
Part of the improvement for Zubac can be attributed to the way that he is getting played in the rotation. Coach Luke Walton has gone away from traditional substitution patterns and is using all three of his centers in more of a committee approach which is allowing each player to maximize his time on the court.
Tyson Chandler has helped the Lakers shore up much of the defensive issues at the start of halves that often led to double digit deficits for the Lakers
When we look at the Lakers’ 14-game stretch without Lebron, one of the key issues Luke addressed with swapping in Chandler prior to the Chicago matchup was the first quarter defense.
The Lakers routinely going down double digits became an issue as McGee’s lack of conditioning upon return from his bout with pneumonia showed in his defensive effectiveness.
We can see that the poor starts on both ends with McGee as a starter. With teams using drop coverage on the Lakers pick and roll sets, McGee hasn’t been an effective lob partner for the Lakers due to defenders staying with him as the roll man and forcing ball handlers to create on their own.
On the defensive end, McGee is a step slow on attacking ball handlers in pick and roll coverage and is often caught chasing blocks leaving a vacuum of space for offensive rebounding opportunities.
After swapping in Chandler the Lakers have been able to correct the defensive woes in the first quarter while some of the offensive issues still linger
And since Day 1, Tyson has been sitting next to me on the plane, and after every game whether I played or not, we talk about the game, go over everything that happened. We think similar, and some stuff I didn’t usually see before, now I can see. When I don’t see it, he explains it to me, and now I’m seeing some different stuff that I didn’t see before.– Ivica Zubac
Ivica Zubac is flourishing in the the later parts of halves by providing toughness, energy, and solid play around the rim.
He is getting a majority of his minutes in both the 2nd and the 4th quarters as Luke is utilizing his finishing ability around the rim to help the Lakers offense
The data also reflects the improvement in those quarters when we look at the before and after of the rotational changes.
We can see in Zubac’s minutes distribution over the past four games that Luke almost exclusively uses Zubac to close out halves below and the subsequent improvement in closing out halves and games with him on the floor. His improved offensive play helps offset the poor offense from his teammates during these late game stretches.
Visualizing the Effort
When watching the tape of Chandler’s impact, much of it has to do with the quality of his communication. He is regularly calling out offensive motions and adjusting his help defense while managing to be aware of his own assignment on the court.
On the play below in the first quarter against OKC, Chandler shows the importance of his value as a vocal help defender:
1) Chandler lets Pope know that a screen to get George open is coming from Adams before the screen can even happen
2) Chandler then shows an early hedge when Adams comes to screen (while maintaining contact with Adams) so that George has to think twice about taking the screen
3) Chandler rotates back into the painted area to help defend against Westbrook’s drives
For Zubac his offensive improvement has been in him getting to areas of the court where his teammates can set him up for easy layups. More importantly, Zubac has learned to get to spots that do not require him to do anything more than take layups. That involves getting to spots deep in the painted area as opposed to being a few feet away requiring a dribble or two.
Zubac constantly moving his feet and being aware of how to give his teammates passing angles has opened up the late game offense for the Lakers as defenses focus on preventing Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball from driving to the rim.
On the play below we see Zubac involved in screening for Ingram and Kuzma but OKC is ready for the perimeter pass from Ball to Kuzma. Zubac immediately rolling to the rim forces Adams to have to play zone and Lonzo artfully drops the pass to Zubac.
The highlight of this play is Zubac rolling to an OPEN area and immediately looking to finish the play. Earlier in his career, Zubac struggled with getting to the right spots to help the offense but under Chandler and McGee’s tutelage he is improving in those moments.
We see the same kind of behavior on the next play.
On this play Zubac recognizes that Adams is going to help on Kuzma’s drive and rolls RIGHT BEHIND Adams. After receiving the dump off Kuzma, he immediately goes up and makes sure he does it in a manner to avoid Westbrook’s block attempt and draws the foul in the process
Luke Walton’s usage of Chandler and Zubac through the last four games has helped minimize the Lakers defensive and offensive inefficiencies from quarter to quarter
As the Laker fans continue to cheer on Zubac’s improved play, it is clear that the mentoring provided by Chandler and McGee as well as the situational usage by Walton is contributing to not only Zubac’s individual success, but the teams’ success as well.