LOS ANGELES- On Friday night, the “Loading” in D’Angelo Russell’s Twitter handle stood for the game tape he was loading into his memory banks. The Los Angeles Lakers’ starting point guard seemed in good spirits on the evening, entering the locker room singing before having a conversation with Luol Deng.
Russell followed up their chat by pulling up a chair, putting on a pair of headphones, and watching the tape the Indiana Pacers game tape the Lakers had playing in their pregame locker room.
The team never got to see what effect the public display of focus would have on their young guard, who collapsed early in the first quarter with a calf-strain that left Staples Center quiet but for apprehensive murmurs.
The Lakers’ consolation prize was a standout performance from the other second overall pick on their roster, Brandon Ingram. The Duke product dropped 15 points on 14 shots, including going 3-6 from behind the arc. He also added seven rebounds while helping limit Pacers’ star Paul George to 21 points on 15 shots, and most importantly allowed the crowd to breathe again.
“It shows how much he’s grown, because I remember the first time he played against Paul George how I thought that Brandon wasn’t ready, and I told him that,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “I said ‘you’re playing against one of the elite players that plays your position and you look like you came out a little lazy tonight. That should never happen if you get an opportunity to play against someone you’ve probably been watching on TV since you were in high school.’”
Ingram certainly didn’t look lazy on Friday night. He wasn’t perfect, but plays like this one, in which he mirrors George’s movements and forces a deflection that he turns into a pass to Jose Calderon show how special he could be:
“His activity level was great, the way he was pushing the ball and getting deflections,” Walton said. “I think that that’s the player, if he continues to work, he will become. The type of guy who is just filling stat sheets and making game-winning plays all over the court.”
George is actually a shockingly good comparison for Ingram, from the way he glides in transition:
To his growing proficiency at using his length to pull-up and fire from mid-range in a basically unguardable shot:
“Of course I look at him a lot,” Ingram said of George. “He’s very versatile, definitely a two-way player. He gets into it on the offensive and defensive end.”
Ingram’s numbers and George’s rookie statistics are shockingly similar as well.
George was more efficient, but he was also a year older, and the similarity of their other stats is still enough to make one do the human approximation of the chin rub emoji.
That’s the spirit, Brandon!
Memes aside, Ingram still has a ways to go before he can be compared to George in anything more than blurry outlines. Walton says he and the coaching staff are still walking the tightrope between knowing how Ingram helps them and investigating where he can aid them further.
“There’s definitely moments like that, where we’ll talk on the bench about who gives us the best chance, and the answer is Brandon sometimes,” Walton said. “And there’s plenty of times where we just want to challenge the hell out of him and see how he responds.”
Friday was the former.
“Tonight I was doing my best to match his minutes with Paul George because I thought that’s what was best for our team with the way Brandon was going,” Walton said.
It won’t be that way every night, but on Friday it was enough to help boost the Lakers past the Pacers and offer some positivity on an evening that could have been been hijacked by an injury to one of the Lakers’ other core pieces.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.