One of the more interesting things to come out of the Los Angeles Lakers blowout five-point loss to the Golden State Warriors was the team’s lineup in the closing minutes of the game. Rookie Brandon Ingram appeared to be handling the ball more as the team closed the game, an adjustment Lakers head coach Luke Walton confirmed was intentional following the game.
“From time to time it seems like he just floats around out there with the normal units that are playing, and doesn't get a ton of touches or shots,” Walton said. “We put him in at the point in the last four or five minutes, and I think he's the type of player that goes off of the feel and the flow of the game a lot, so to me it looked like he was playing with a bit more confidence.”
Walton said he tried the move in part because Ingram has looked “more comfortable in practice” due to the extra opportunities he gets there.
There are no publicly available statistics for how much usage Ingram gets in practice, but just 13.8 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while Ingram is on the floor have ended with him taking a shot, drawing free-throws, assisting a teammate, or turning the ball over. Through five preseason games that ranks as the fourth-lowest usage rate on the team, ahead of only Ivica Zubac, Metta World Peace, and Jose Calderon.
This makes sense! Ingram is just barely 19-years old, and more raw than fresh-made cookie dough. The Lakers should be taking it slow with him.
That being said, Walton playing him on the ball to get him some extra looks in a game where the Lakers were making some headway at chipping away the Warriors lead does jive with his comments on valuing growth over wins. So how did it go?
“I'm comfortable playing any position on the floor,” Ingram said. “It gives me a little bit of an advantage playing against smaller guards, it helps me be versatile in a different position and try to know all of the spots.”
Ingram didn’t have a ton of notable plays on the ball in the closing minutes, and so far his playmaking ability hasn’t translated into a ton of assists (1.3 per game) or a high assist rate (7.7 percent).
All those caveats aside, he did have three assists against the Warriors (his most in a game so far), and demonstrated examples of the types of plays we can expect more consistently when Ingram fully adjusts to NBA speed.
On this play, Ingram takes the smaller Shaun Livingston off the dribble and spots D’Angelo Russell looping around a screen from Larry Nance Jr. Immediately recognizing a read and hitting a teammate in a tight window isn’t something Ingram has done a lot so far, but as the season moves along and he gains more comfort in the Lakers offense he’ll start to flash skills like this more consistently.
Ingram wasn’t handling the ball in this play, but it was another example of him making a quick and simple read to set up a teammate. As the corpse of Anderson Varejao lunged out at him, the ball was out of Ingram’s hands almost before he caught it.
Again, the point of this isn’t to say we are going to be seeing “point Ingram” as a consistent feature of the Lakers’ offense anytime soon, if ever. His best shooting game of the preseason is what garnered the most attention against Golden State, but it’s worth watching how he improves as a playmaker, and it’s interesting that Walton thought that putting him in such a role was the best way to get him comfortable.