On Sunday, the red-hot Clippers took a narrow loss to the #1 seed T-Wolves. The game featured superstars such as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and James Harden. However, the deciding factor of the game was one very familiar to Clippers fans, especially this season: their underrated star, Ivica Zubac.

The Past:

The Croatian native Ivica Zubac has been an LA basketball fixture for the last 10 years. He was drafted by the Lakers with the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. During his time with the Lakers, Zubac showed flashes of brilliance such as his 25 points and 11 rebounds on January 17, 2017 against the Nuggets. However, he never quite broke out as a star. To begin with, injuries plagued him. During his first two seasons, he was sent down to the minors multiple times, first to the Lakers’ D-League affiliate in 2016-2017 and then to the Lakers’ G-League affiliate in 2017-2018. This combination of promise and inconsistency led the Clippers to covet him and the Lakers to shop him around. On February 7, 2019, an inter-arena trade was made. It sent Zubac and Michael Beasley to the Clippers and journeyman big man Mike Muscala to the struggling Lakers.

Zubac suddenly found himself on a playoff team for the first time in his career, moving from the 10-seed Lakers to the 8-seed Clippers. Under the new pressure, Zubac delivered like a star. Now an everyday starter for the first time, he proved essential for his new team down the stretch. He averaged 9.4 PPG and 7.7 RPG in just 20.2 MPG en route to a 48-34 finish for the Clippers. He continued to build on that every year averaging 9.0 PPG in 2020-21, 10.3 PPG in 2021-22, and 10.8 PPG in 2022-23. The Clippers, who have defined their team around their star wings, Leonard and George, have continually relied on Zubac as a rock in the middle of their defense and a difference-maker at the 5 spot on their offense.

The Present:

Zubac has been very good for the Clippers, but his game was taken to a whole new level with the arrival of Harden. The Clippers had long lacked a real playmaker at the PG spot. They relied on the likes of “Lemon Pepper” Lou Williams and “Big Government” Reggie Jackson as their guys at the #1 spot. Not to discredit those players, but they were scorers first and playmakers second. However, as soon as Harden arrived, he unlocked Zubac. Zubac jumped to averaging 12.4 PPG, almost 3.5 PPG higher than his career average of 9.0 PPG. Not only did his scoring jump, but his efficiency did as well. His career average is .610 eFG%, but this year, he has been averaging .655 eFG%. This jump in both scoring and efficiency has forced defenses to pay more attention to him and made him a formidable threat to his opponents.

The greatest example of this was the close loss to the #1 seed T-Wolves on Sunday night. In the feature match in primetime against the #1 seed in the conference, the stars were aligned for an awe-inspiring victory for the Clippers. It would have moved them into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. However, late in the day, just 30 minutes before the game, the Clippers received bad news. The Clippers ruled out the normally stalwart Zubac with a calf injury. Daniel Theis was put in his place and did his best, but he clearly lacked Zubac’s impact on the game, scoring just 3 points and 4 rebounds. Unsurprisingly, the Clippers lost in a very close fashion by just 4 points. One can easily imagine that if Zubac could have played, the outcome would have been very different.

Akash Mahi, a dedicated enthusiast of the game, is a recognized expert in the domain of tennis balls. With a keen understanding of materials and aerodynamics, he has contributed to the evolution of tennis ball design, enhancing playability and performance. Mahi's expertise continues to impact both casual players and professionals alike.