Lakers’ Ivica Zubac wants to face league’s top centers

Lakers center Ivica Zubac, pulling down a rebound over Hornets center Cody Zeller during a game on Feb. 28, will be under the watchful eye of management as he works on his game this summer.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

At some point, Lakers Coach Luke Walton wants to get Ivica Zubac into the starting lineup to see how his rookie does against some of the NBA’s top centers.

When that time comes, Zubac is ready.

“I would like to play against starters,” Zubac said. “Just play my game and try to keep myself out of foul trouble, play hard. I think I can play against every center in this league. Just want to prove myself I’m in the best league in the world for a reason.”

Zubac became a regular part of the rotation on Jan. 12, for the Lakers’ 43rd game of the season. Since then Zubac has had three double-doubles and scored in double figures seven times.


When the Lakers put Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, into the starting lineup, they did not call on Zubac to be their starting center. Instead, they went with Tarik Black, and gave Zubac more minutes off the bench. Timofey Mozgov, who had previously been starting at center, saw his minutes become nearly non-existent.

Zubac suffered a quad contusion against the Boston Celtics and missed the past two games. Lakers Coach Luke Walton said while he would like to get Zubac into the starting lineup, the injury might have delayed that move.

The first game Zubac played remains the only one he’s started. He takes a lot of confidence from that game. It was against Atlanta’s Dwight Howard, a center he grew up admiring.

“Now I’m ready to play against everybody,” Zubac said. “I’ve been through worse in my first start in the season, so I think I’m prepared for everything.”

Nwaba’s future

Thursday was the 10th day of David Nwaba’s contract. As of Thursday morning, he hadn’t had any conversations with the Lakers about his future.

If Nwaba doesn’t get another 10-day contract with the Lakers, it will be through no fault of his own. Walton said Nwaba has done all he can. All that would stand between him and another contract is if the Lakers want to take a look at other players.

“Part of the reason of opening up that spot is we want to get a look at a couple people before the season ends,” Walton said. “Some of them aren’t available right now and David’s been good so we’ve got to decide if we want to wait.”

Praise for Russell

Phoenix Suns Coach Earl Watson issued a compliment to Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell.

“He kind of reminded me of, early in his career, of Deron Williams and the size and the quickness,” Watson said. “Not really too fast, but he is quick and explosive. His understanding where to be and timing. Remember it took D-Will like two seasons and then about the third or fourth season D-Will kind of turned it on and became an All Star.”

Williams was the third overall pick by the Utah Jazz in 2005. He was selected to three All-Star games.

Watson said Russell has the perfect mentor to grow into that type of player in Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations.

“Magic has an influence personally with every player who is from L.A. in the last 30 years of basketball,” Watson said. “Just getting them on the court, teaching them fundamentals, teaching them the game, how to be a professional, what’s best for his game. So [Russell] needs to use his resources.”

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli