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Digging for Diamonds: Ivica Zubac and Ante Zizic

After riding the bench for most of the season, Lakers’ rookie center Ivica Zubac has posted three double-doubles in the last ten days despite playing fewer than 30 minutes in each contest. Born in a country that definitely exists – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Zubac played against top competition in Serbia before declaring for the 2016 NBA draft.Don’t let his second round pedigree fool you into thinking Zubac lacks upside. He had a rookie WARP projection of 1.7, which is more commonly found among lottery selections, (Marquese Chriss had a 1.9 projection).  My working theory is there’s a lingering bias among NBA GM’s against Euro bigs, particularly those seen as unable to help right away (e.g. the Knicks selected “NBA ready” Cleanthony Early over Nikola Jokic and his 3.1 rookie WARP projection in 2014).

Zubac doesn’t turn 20 until the middle of March, but in limited minutes he’s posted a league average player efficiency rating (PER) with a very healthy 2.7 combined blocks and steals per 36 minutes. Known for his advanced post game, Zubac has the tools to become a stretch five. While he has curiously not attempted a three pointer this season, he demonstrated his range in the summer league and preseason, while his present free throw stroke bodes well for his future accuracy from deep.

Zubac lacks the lateral quickness you’d like to see from a thin seven-footer and it’s too soon to say how effective he is as a rim protector, but the shot blocking ability is there for him to easily average at least 1.5 per game in starter’s minutes. Zubac also has

Conclusion: Factoring in his A+ nicknames (Zu-Block, Zublocka, Zu Alcindor), his opportunity on a rebuilding Lakers squad, early production and pedigree, Zubac is a big fat “buy” for me. His value in the short term should allow him to come at a relative discount, but I expect Zubac to be a top 100 asset in the preseason next year and ultimately provide peak Channing Frye type stats (Frye was four times a top 50 9-category player in his prime). There’s some risk that the Lakers upgrade on him via the draft, so don’t go crazy.

Ante Zizic is a Croatian-born big (emphasis on big) selected 23rd overall in 2016 by the Boston Celtics. Knowing their depth chart was already healthy and roster spots were scarce, the Celtics wisely made a Zizic a draft-and-stash selection. Zizic’s 1.9 WARP projection was even higher than Zubac’s and his stock has only gone up since the draft thanks to high efficiency, high volume play in the Adriatic League (the same league where Nikola Jokic came from). Based on his play he’d almost certainly be a high lottery pick in this year’s draft.

You can see video and specific stats for Zizic here (a must-read if you’re a Celtics fan, which I am not).

Conclusion: While Zubac is in the NBA now, Zizic has more upside and may come cheaper cuz’… well, most people don’t know who he is. I’d boldly rank him as a fringe top 100 dynasty asset, but he can likely be acquired for much less than that.

Previously on “Digging for Diamonds”  

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Tom Trudeau

Tom Trudeau

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