It’s been a whirlwind of a 2017-18 season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball received plenty of media attention in the months leading up to the new year and still remains a hot topic. Kyle Kuzma surprised Laker nation and became a fan favorite with his stellar play. Larry Nance Jr. randomly overtook Julius Randle for the starting power forward spot. Combine all of that with the the distraction of LaVar Ball, and LiAngelo Ball’s legal troubles in China, and the focus on the progression of sophomore Brandon Ingram has been obscured.
Lakers president Magic Johnson raved about Ingram's development and ability to become the leading scorer for the Lakers this past summer. He made it known to the rest of the league that Ingram was strictly off limits in trade talks, even when rumors surrounding DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George were on the table.
It brings to question, was it the right decision? Will gambling on Brandon Ingram haunt the Lakers for years to come? That all depends on how you high you view Ingram's ceiling.
The 6'9 lanky forward from Duke has already progressed dramatically in his second season. Ingram's scoring has climbed from 9.4 points per game as a rookie to 15.7. The supporting numbers — assists, rebounds, steals and blocks — have improved as well. Ingram came into training camp more muscular and refined. He worked vigorously over the summer, strengthening the core of his body while adjusting his diet so he could obtain more mass.
The work he put in during the offseason has paid dividends. Ingram is showing great progress in attacking and finishing at the rim. His shooting percentages jumped from 40 percent last season, to nearly 46 percent this season. Head coach Luke Walton spoke of Ingram’s offseason progress and how that affects his mindset now.
“He spent the summer getting stronger. He goes to that weight room consistently, I think he’s better understanding what it’s like to take that contact at this level and finish, and where he can use his length and angles to get advantages for himself,” Walton said.
Ingram was very much a raw prospect heading into the NBA, but made a considerable leap to make the best use of his wiry frame by the end of his rookie year. Although he has shown an improved first step to get by most defenders, his lean frame still doesn’t allow him to stay balanced when shooting. This is the next step in the evolution of his game.
Ingram’s long strides are an advantage he has against most NBA small forwards. He can get off the floor quickly once in stride, but lacks the explosiveness to consistently get by defenders. Brandon has been finishing through contact this season, but still has trouble turning the corner and balancing his body. He also suffers from not having a counter move if he can’t get by his defender.
Ingram settling for a fadeaway when he fails to get by his defender is tendency he has to improve on. He fails to use the 4” advantage he has on Norman Powell in the example below:
In the next example, Ingram was able to utilize his long stride to get by the long arms of Anthony Davis. In the play that follows it, though, he shows his lack of explosiveness as he struggles to get by Dante Cunningham — resulting in a shot he’s not comfortable taking.
A concern in this early part of the season is that Ingram has not improved as a jump shooter. The college three-pointer was kind to him, as he was able to connect on 41 percent of his three-point attempts at Duke. Most suspected he would struggle with his jumper in his rookie season, which he did. He was labeled as capable jump shooter who had feathery touch heading into the draft, but that has not been the case so far in his young NBA career. He remains inconsistent from deep, shooting 33.3 percent from outside through 21 games in his second year.
Ingram also has to correct his free-throw shooting if he is going to become the leading scorer for the Lakers. He is shooting just 64 percent on five attempts per game, which is the third-worst among small forwards with a minimum of three attempts per game.
It’s hard to criticize a 20-year-old in just his second year at the professional level, which is why Lakers fans should remain hopeful. The glimpses are there, and with time and better conditioning, Ingram should adapt to become a well-rounded offensive weapon. The Lakers brass has preached patience for this young core. After all, what made Ingram such an exciting prospect was the possible heights of his untapped potential.
"I think I have some more to show." Ingram said. "This summer I was super confident in what I wanted to do this season, and I don't think it's all came yet."
On the brighter side of things, Ingram has at least been consistent this season. After a brutal preseason where he was forcing it on the offensive end, he has become much more comfortable, playing within the flow of the offense while taking higher percentage shots. Ingram has scored in double-digits in 17 of the Lakers’ 21 contests, averaging 18.2 points per game over his last five games.
He’s also a diligent worker, which is another positive for the Lakers. His passion for the game is undeniable, even opting to skip his senior prom to play basketball in his local gym.
There are never-ending comparisons to Kevin Durant because of his size and frame, but it’d be wise to erase that thought. Ingram’s progression as a player can still be special, as long as fans don’t expect him to be a once-in-a-generation player like Durant. All signs points to BI getting better as the year goes on, and his career night against Golden State Warriors serves as a reminder of just that.