LAS VEGAS – The attempt once earned Andrew Bynum a quick trip to the bench. The concept became a disturbing trend to former Lakers coach Byron Scott.
But Lakers coach Luke Walton views the 3-point shot differently. After serving as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors as they perfected their outside shooting in the past two years, Walton plans to maximize that philosophy with a younger and more unproven roster. So much that the Lakers have encouraged rookie center Ivica Zubac to extend his range.
“Once they prove it to Coach Walton, he’ll let them shoot them,” Lakers summer league coach Jesse Mermuys said. “Obviously [Zubac] has to prove that. But that’s where the game is going. If you’re not allowing your guys to do that, then you’re behind the times. We have to encourage all that. If they prove it and make it, you have to let them shoot it.”
Zubac has not taken any 3-pointers yet through three summer league games. Yet, he has averaged nine points on a 64.3 percent clip based off a mix of post-ups and jumpers.
His infectious enthusiasm has gone beyond playing for his childhood team. He shared, “I really love the system” after the 19-year-old Bosnian native felt constricted when he played in Croatia.
“I was in the system where coach tells you who’s going to shoot now and he calls the plays. Players don’t have freedom. Here, you have freedom and you can show what you have,” Zubac said. “To have it for this first time is so great. I can show what I can do.”
Zubac maintained his mid-range game and post presence is “nothing new.” Yet, he conceded he felt negatively affected with his development in Croatia after becoming mostly a screen setter.
Scott did not come close toward resorting to such restrictions during his two-years coaching the Lakers. Still, he downplayed the importance of the 3-point shot despite eight of the last 10 NBA championship teams leading the league in both three-point shooting and attempts. Scott mostly justified his diminished view of the 3-point shot because the Lakers hardly matched the personnel of other thriving outside shooting teams, including the Warriors.
That hardly describes how the Lakers’ current coaching staff thinks.
“We’re letting it fly man!” Mermuys said. “We want to empower our guys. We want them to feel confident and let it fly, especially in summer league. If that thing comes to [Zubac], he has to be ready and line it up. It looks good.”
Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell observed that Zubac is “still coming out of his shell a little bit.” That not only describes becoming acclimated to the United States. That could also describe Zubac adjusting to his role. Zubac reported Mermuys has instructed him to “look for the ball more.”
“It’ll come with experience and his aggression,” Russell said. “As the games go on, he’s getting more aggressive. We’re finding him and getting easy touches. He’s getting around the basket a lot. He’s finishing around the basket a lot and knocking that 15-footer down and the easy two. He’s picking that trust because we know he can make that shot.”
So much that the Lakers believe Zubac can also make 3-pointers, something that neither Bynum achieved nor that Scott embraced.
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