Rookie Ivica Zubac is exceeding expectations set by Lakers Coach Luke Walton

Lakers center Ivica Zubac (40) looks to pass against Dallas Mavericks center Salah Mejri during the first half on Jan. 22.

Lakers center Ivica Zubac (40) looks to pass against Dallas Mavericks center Salah Mejri during the first half on Jan. 22.

(Ron Jenkins / Associated Press)

When the season began, Lakers Coach Luke Walton had a conversation with rookie Ivica Zubac to set expectations.

Walton told the 19-year-old, the 32nd pick in the draft, that he shouldn’t expect much playing time; that he should use his rookie season to improve himself, work in the Development League and get in shape.

“[He said], ‘I want you to be five times better player than you were this summer,’ ” Zubac said. “And that was really big motivation for me because I knew at some point in the season, something’s going to happen and I’m going to have to play. I was just preparing for that moment.”

Zubac has performed beyond Walton’s expectations, so much that when the Lakers reviewed film in advance of Thursday’s game against the Utah Jazz, the coach used Zubac as an example for the whole team to see.


“It’s a good message and a good visual when the guys see it on film,” Walton said. “We don’t call any plays for Zu and he ends up with 15 shot attempts because he sets hard screens or rolls hard to the basket with his hands ready and when they collapse, he’s ready to make the pass to the weak side. I think that’s a good lesson for everyone to learn as far as you don’t need play calls for you to get opportunities to score the ball.”

Against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Zubac notched his second double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“I learned that when I was young, when you set a hard screen roll hard, either you’re going to be open or somebody else is going to be open,” Zubac said. “That’s one of the first things I learned playing basketball. Wherever I go that thing’s really helpful.”

For all but seven of the Lakers’ first 42 games, Zubac was inactive or didn’t play. A combination of injuries and Zubac’s improvement in practice caused the Lakers to give him more playing time.

Zubac has played in the last eight games.

Randle ill

The Lakers sat Julius Randle, recovering from an illness, keeping him active only in case of an emergency.

Tarik Black started in place of Randle, while Jose Calderon started in place of point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is out with an MCL sprain and a right calf injury.

Randle started in 44 of the Lakers’ 50 games this season, and is averaging 13 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.


Upon their return to Los Angeles, the Lakers will have their longest break between games of the season. They don’t play again until Tuesday when they host the Denver Nuggets. … Forward Larry Nance Jr. continued to be reintroduced into the lineup on Thursday after being held to a 16-minute restriction against the Trail Blazers. Nance also took an elbow to the back of the head on Wednesday, but said he felt fine.