They Smell Like the Future: Brian Zoubek

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 21, 2010 under Commentary | 7 Comments to Read

Photo by Sara Davis/Associated Press.

Duke senior
7’1”, 250 lbs
22 years old
Projection: Second rounder/undrafted

Much about Brian Zoubek’s game is counter-intuitive. For one, most people would expect a Duke product to have a refined skill set. It’s not really so with Zoubek, who was an instrumental part of Duke’s title run in spite of serious limitations to his game. He’s also a seven-footer without much of a post game, a decent defender down low but not a great shot-blocker, a terrific rebounder but merely a so-so overall defender. Overall, you’re looking at a big body with one very marketable skill and little else. That could be enough to make the Mavs sign on the dotted line, particularly if their scouts have faith in Zoubek’s ability to develop the other aspects of his game.

There is absolutely no way to disqualify Zoubek’s rebounding prowess at Duke. He was the best per-minute and per-possession offensive rebounder in the country last season, a skill that’s worth its weight in gold for a second round pick. No team in the league is looking to hand possessions to a player selected this late in the draft. Most are aiming for roster filler, bodies for summer league or training camp, or possibly a project. That puts defense and rebounding at a premium, and while Zoubek may not be the best defender in the world, he looked every bit a world-class rebounder last season. If he can continue to grab boards at anywhere near that pace in the NBA, he should be able to earn some decent burn (even in his rookie year).

I just hope NBA fans aren’t waiting to see Zoubek nail a turnaround jumper or a drop-step hook. If they are, they could end up waiting for quite some time. At present, Brian’s offensive repertoire is limited, and it’s unlikely that it will ever become stable enough to make Zoubek a reliable offensive weapon. Not that he has to be. As long as Brian can convert a minimal amount of open opportunities and not give up too much on the defensive end, he’ll be well-worth the Mavs’ pick and time.

As a bonus, Zoubek is probably the most NBA-ready big man in the Mavs’ range. Since Dallas doesn’t have a chance to net one of the flashier centers in the bunch, they may have to settle for a hard-worker, solid screener, and big rebounder. That worked out pretty well for the Jazz when they selected Paul Millsap with the 47th pick in 2006, and while I wouldn’t expect Zoubek to have anywhere near as successful a career as Paul, we’re looking at a player with a similar (statistically superior, actually) rebounding résumé. That’s obviously not enough to warrant a first round selection, but it’s pretty strong selling point for No. 50.

2009-2010 Traditional Per Game and Per 40 Minute Stats:

Per Game5.
Per 4012.

2009-2010 Per Possession Stats (Offense):


2009-2010 Per Possession Stats (Defense):


Other People:

Joe Treutlein, Draft Express: “Most of Duke’s halfcourt sets started with Zoubek setting a screen at the top of the key, something he does as well as anyone because of his massive frame , high motor, and great strength. Zoubek also passes well out of the high post. Duke’s offense frequently went through him on quick ball reversals, where he did an effective job finding the open man at the 3-point line. Off screens, Zoubek was occasionally featured in pick-and-rolls, but his potential is severely limited here due to his lack of athleticism. He struggles to get off the floor, making his rolls to the basket a bit awkward, especially when dealing with weakside help.”

Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, for “In fact, Zoubek ranks as the second-best per-minute offensive rebounder in the NCAA in the past decade, behind only DeJuan Blair, who made the NBA’s All-Rookie second team this season after slipping to the second round of the 2009 draft. The difference between Zoubek and Blair is a matter of 7 inches, as the Blue Devil stands 7-1 in shoes and the former Pittsburgh star is just 6-6. Zoubek probably isn’t as good of an offensive player as Blair, but he clearly understands his role and is capable of executing it in an NBA half-court setting. (He averaged 5.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in 18.7 minutes last season.) Considering any big man with a pulse and some girth can earn an NBA opportunity, Zoubek could be a solid pickup in the second round.”

Dana O’Neil, “Zoubek is still not the first, second, third or even fourth scoring option. When a reporter began a question during Sunday’s news conference by saying, ‘This is for the shooters,’ Zoubek smirked and nodded his head as his coach deadpanned: ‘That’s not you, Brian.’ So strong is Zoubek’s notion to not score, he admits to being a bit panicked when he gets the ball under the hoop, instinctively dishing it outside instead of going to the rim himself. But his teammates aren’t complaining. The 11.5 rebounds Zoubek is averaging over the last four games and countless screens he’s set make him every bit as vital to Duke’s success as Singler, Scheyer and Nolan Smith. ‘There are times when he’s two feet from the basket and instead of going up, he kicks it out to a 3-point shooter,’ [Zoubek's high school coach, Paul] Wiedeman said. ‘I bite my tongue. There’s a method to the madness and the madness works.’ It worked all the way for Duke. ‘I’m a 7-1 white guy who can’t move all that well and I don’t jump that high, so I have to prove myself every day,’ Zoubek said. ‘A couple of more screens and maybe I’ll get some respect.’”

Supplementary Materials:

Stats courtesy of Draft Express and Stat Sheet.

  • Jason from Durham

    He was supposed to be this great hope. When he came to Duke, in the Blue-White scrimmage, he smoked Josh McRoberts. Then again this is the same person who I have seen in person pass out of a situation where Stephen Curry was switched onto him and he was right next to the basket. Even though we beat Davidson that game, that must have been a very embarassing moment

    I think he gained confidence when he grew a beard

  • charlie’s bro’s bro

    you should add this scouting report:

    Charlie, shameless Duke enthusiast: “Zoubek pretty much single-handedly won us a national championship. The guy will rebound and finish from within 5 feet reliably. He lacks all other skills.”

  • robc

    One thing Zoubs added late in his career was a sweeping right-handed hook, usually taken from the right block. Definitely a nice shot and a symptom of his growing confidence as a player. If he stays healthy (feet are a concern for anyone of that size), his best basketball is ahead of him.

  • Ike

    Zoubek will definitely get drafted and will have a solid NBA career. The guy’s 7-1, rebounds and plays defense. If he stays healthy (something he couldn’t consistently do at Duke), then he’ll have a 10-year career easy.

    As a Duke fan and alum, it sounds crazy to say this. But with all the injuries Zoubek suffered at Duke, he never really had full summers to improve and develop. Dare I say, his best basketball is ahead of him. No joke.

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    Here’s a recent interview with Zoubek, where he talks about his transition to the NBA: