NBA AM: It’s Zipser Time

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The first time Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg announced that Paul Zipser would be starting a game just a quarter of the way through his first season, a lot of fans chortled inwardly at how little the 2016 second-round pick might do in his new expanded role.

All anybody could really make of the mysterious German was that his last name sounded a lot like “zipper,” a word with undeniably comical connotations, and even the media was shocked he’d be the starter. In terms of expectations, they literally could not have been lower.

It didn’t take long for Zipser to prove he was no joke. He scored seven points in that debut, and while he didn’t remain the starter, he still earned his fair share of minutes as a rookie, playing 19.2 minutes per contest in 2016-2017. He averaged only 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds a night, but flashed some high points on both ends of the floor, including in the playoffs.

The breakout may have been unexpected to most of the informed basketball world, but Zipser, always stoic, says he had a feeling his time would come.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Zipser told Basketball Insiders. “I had to sit out the first 20 games or something, but I kept waiting for my opportunity to come. People told me I was going to have to wait on it, but I had done that in Munich, as well, so I was ready for it. I just played my game every game and started with good defense and teamwork.”

Patience came easily for Zipser, mostly because he didn’t play huge minutes on any of his German teams, either. Even on those teams, however, he had a role, which is what he hoped for himself in the U.S., albeit in a stronger, higher-intensity league.

“I was ready to come in here and do the same thing I had done in Germany with EuroBasket,” he said. “That’s exactly why I wanted to come here. I wanted to challenge myself.”

While he’s not necessarily a superstar-in-training, Zipser offers the kind of two-way skill set that Chicago desperately needs. He has the potential to score 12-15 points per game, especially on a Bulls roster devoid of any go-to shooter, but he also is a slightly above-average defender and a respectable rebounder. Better still, he can shoot the occasional three-pointer.

All of that should bode well for his sophomore campaign in Chicago. Now the projected full-time starter at Jimmy Butler’s old small forward spot, Zipser is going to get an even bigger opportunity this year.

In fact, as the Bulls fell apart over the summer, Zipser stayed apprised of the changes and gradually felt a shift that suggested he’d play a much larger role moving forward.

He seems to understand that “much larger role” doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization expects him to bloom immediately into an All-Star.

“I don’t need to be the leader of the team or the top scorer of the team or to have the ball in my hands the whole time,” he said. “That’s not who I am as a person, but I wanted a bigger role and more opportunity to do some leading along with some other guys on the team. And that’s what I think is going to happen.”

Somebody on this team is going to explode this year out of sheer opportunity and there is a chance that guy is Zipser. At the very least, his consistency and even temper should provide some stability for an incredibly young team. He’s part of that youth, too, but he sure acts like he’s belonged for years.

And why not? That’s the way it’s been since the minute he stepped foot on an NBA court.