Watching Los Angeles Lakers second overall pick Brandon Ingram during his rookie season is like looking at all the ingredients for a cake sitting on the kitchen counter. Sure, one can see all of the ingredients that will make the dessert great right in front of them, they just haven’t been baked to reach their full potential just yet.
The difference with Ingram is that sometimes he puts it all together to give Lakers fans observers a sample-size glimpse of just how special he could ultimately become.
"Its going to come,” Luol Deng told Bob Garcia of Sports Out West of Ingram’s performance. “You see flashes. I think he's just starting to realize how good he is."
Ingram’s lightbulb moment exploded and burned the Miami HEAT for a career-high tying 17 points in the Lakers’ 127-100 win on Friday night. While the point totals were the same, Ingram showed growth in much more efficient he scored this time than his prior high against the Toronto Raptors, needing just nine shots to rack up his 17 points (instead of 16 like in Toronto).
Ingram’s three-point shooting woes continued (he missed his only attempt), but he made up for it by getting to the basket and drawing five free-throws.
“I think he’s slowly been getting more comfortable at navigating the paint,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “In each of the last couple games he’s had some really nice finishes coming in off one leg and using his length around the rim to get angles, and like anything else, that’s just figuring out as a young player where he can look to take advantage of things.”
Ingram’s shot chart reflected his coach’s words:
So how does a player listed at 190 pounds get to the rim and convert with such ease? Those same finishes Walton was talking about. If all moves had to have nicknames like the “skyhook” or “floater,” then this would be called the “baby giraffe stumbles and narrowly avoids falling”:
Ingram is able to finish around the cup so well despite how slight he is because of his length letting him finish on the way down like he does on the preceding play, or alternatively by getting out in transition and slithering through defenders to finish before the opposing defense can get set:
Look at where Ingram begins to pick up his dribble:
Now go back and watch his steps. He doesn’t travel, and plays like that should simply not be possible, or as Deng put it:
Luol Deng on Brandon Ingram: "Every now and then he makes moves out there you just can't teach."— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 7, 2017
On the break wasn’t the only place Ingram showed off the value of his raw tools. He also is capable of unorthodox touch finishes like this:
The coordination required to collect that pass with one hand and finish in the same motion is insane, and it’s not just Ingram’s finishing that makes him so promising.
Walton has played Ingram as the Lakers’ nominal back up point guard all season, and while that won’t ultimately be his full-time position, the rookie is already starting to demonstrate how much it’s accelerating his growth as a playmaker:
Ingram instantly recognized that the Tyler Johnson had run smack into a brick wall named Tarik Black, and that Clarkson had a free lane to the basket. He responded with a pinpoint lob pass. He has a predilection for those:
Oh, no big deal, that’s just the Lakers’ skyscraping rookie small forward immediately recognizing pick-and-roll coverages and setting up layups for a teammate.
Ingram won’t always have the ball in his hands as a primary facilitator, and that’s fine. He’s also learning to move the ball to the open man almost the second he catches it as a kick-out option:
The major theme of Ingram’s night was how quickly he’s making all of these decisions, a promising development considering his age and how he’s often doing things on the floor he hasn’t been asked to do before this season.
How good Ingram might be is ultimately unknowable, but efforts like his game against Miami demonstrate that all of the ingredients are there for the Lakers to bake something special.
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet unless otherwise cited. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.