Ivica Zubac continued his transformation from lovable prospect that was more meme than man, into a legitimate 2-way player making critical contributions during a frenzied comeback in a 127-121 loss against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Zubac turned in one of the best pick and roll performances of any Laker this season, with an impressive display of skill and technique.

Screening Technique

While Zubac’s sheer size is impressive, he accentuates it with superb technique. Watch as he sprints to his screen and nails Will Barton, freeing up Jose Calderon for an open jumper.

Bigs are taught to “lock” the defender’s foot in by placing their own foot above it, and Zubac does exactly that with his right foot. This technique assures that contact is made. Denver likes to soft hedge on screens, with the big hanging back in the paint, relying on the guard to go over the top of the screen and provide back pressure on the pull-up jumper. By making solid contact via a quality foot-lock, Zubac assures an open jump shot for his teammate.

In this example, Kenneth Faried hedges harder on Jordan Clarkson, and Jameer Nelson is forced to take a very wide recovery angle due to a quality foot-lock by Zubac. This, along with poor help-side defense by Denver, produces a great roll lane, and Clarkson finds him for an easy dunk.

In total, Ivica Zubac created 8 quality looks for his teammates by making contact on his screens.

Ivica Zubac created 4 quality looks for himself and others with his foot-locking technique alone.

Slipping, Rolling, & Providing a Passing Angle

Just as the ball handler has reads to make as he comes off of a screen, so too does the screen setter. He must read the defense and decide his screening angle, or if he should slip the screen altogether, which is usually determined by how his defender plays the pick & roll. Traps and hard hedges are susceptible to slipped screens. Zubac demonstrated an excellent feel for this read on several possessions vs. Denver.

Watch as he slips the screen and forces Mudiay to help on him, thereby freeing up Clarkson for an open 3-point attempt.

When a guard rejects a screen, which means to not use it and dribble in the other direction instead, the screen setter’s job is to settle in the open window that is created and provide an angle for a pocket pass. Zubac scored twice off of this action, displaying soft hands in the process.

Areas Where He Can Improve on the Pick and Roll

Zubac’s biggest weakness as a pick & roll man is on the short roll. A short roll is when the screen setter rolls to around the free throw line rather than all the way to the hoop, providing the ball handler a passing angle along the way. Players will often slip screens into a short roll, as both are advantageous against aggressive pick & roll defenses. If done properly, this creates a 4-on-3 scenario in which the big must identify the open man and get him the ball, or attack if he is the open man.

On this play, Zubac short rolls and attempts to dump the ball off to Brandon Ingram, when the correct read is a skip pass to Jordan Clarkson for an open 3.

He did a better job of reading this play later in the 4th quarter, passing the ball to Nick Young for a 3-point attempt. Ideally, there would have been one more pass to Jordan Clarkson on this play, although Clarkson is up too high. Had he been at the free throw line extended, this would have been a wide open attempt for him, all due to Zubac’s read on the short roll.

Making the correct read on the short roll is largely a function of experience and repetition. 

Zubac has demonstrated 3-point range in the D-League, which would make him practically unguardable in pick & roll situations. Here is an example where he would have an open jumper available to him if he chose to pop behind the line. This would also alleviate a great deal of pressure from Laker guards, who often see extra attention paid to them as a result of teams not worrying about the Laker bigs when they are on the perimeter.

Ivica Zubac possesses a remarkable combination of size, technique, soft hands, touch, and motor, all of which are important factors in being an effective pick & roll player. His ability to make reads on the short roll will likely come with time, and if he’s able to add a dependable 3-point shot, he can become one of the best pick & roll bigs in the NBA in the coming years.