Before the Los Angeles Lakers embarked on the road, I commented on the notion of welcoming the silver linings during a tough winter schedule. The team has gone an encouraging 2-3 since the aforementioned article, and although a tougher chunk of games are on the horizon, the team’s young core has given fans the glimpses of optimism needed during the losses.
Within the team’s last five games, the Lakers have provided the NBA with their fair share of buzz-worthy moments. The first came with Brandon Ingram’s thrilling game-winning three-pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers:
The shot perfectly encapsulated what has been a promising sophomore season for Ingram so far. Brandon has clearly made significant leaps in his game, improving in nearly every statistical category from his rookie campaign with a new relentless confidence.
Ingram has seemingly accepted the role of go-to scorer on this team so far this season. From what was an inconsistent rookie year, Ingram has gradually developed into a much more reliable offensive presence on the team, holding his own against the NBA’s best each and every night. We saw this during his career-high scoring output against Golden State, and more recently, his 26-6-6 performance against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The one aspect of his game that does still remain somewhat a work in progress is his outside shot. Shooting only 29 percent from three as a rookie, Ingram has steered away from the perimeter and instead, has preferred operating in the paint in year two.
This is not to say he is unwilling, or unable to splash a three when it is given to him, as in the last five games. He is shooting 45 percent from three, impressively knocking down three of his four attempts against Cleveland. His three-point attempts are still down overall compared to last season, with only a little over one attempt a game, but he has noticeably found a better balance in December varying his repertoire.
This is a good sign as opponents eventually will start defending him for the drive more aggressively. Ingram’s improved play, and confidence, have been a godsend for Lakers fans. It also serves as an important reminder for what patience, and hard work can do for a player’s development.
On the subject of patience, the Lakers’ most polarizing young player, Lonzo Ball, has also made promising strides during this stretch, specifically on the road. Ball, who is infinitely the most unpopular Laker in away arenas, has seemingly excelled in hostile environments. In Philadelphia, he not only showed his defensive prowess with four blocks and three steals, but also handed out the assist to Ingram’s game winner shown above. In his first Madison Square Garden visit, his tantalizing performance, specifically his third quarter duel with Kristaps Porzingis, stirred NBA twitter into a frenzy.
Lonzo Ball finishes with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists vs New York pic.twitter.com/yGKIsJRn3U— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 13, 2017
Then, after another near triple-double performance against the Cavaliers, Ball helped provide the NBA world with it’s newest favorite image when he and LeBron shared a post-game chat.
The chat has since gone viral, decoded, and parodied across social media. As humorous and enticing it was for Lakers’ fans salivating for a LeBron/Lonzo team-up, the interaction cemented the encouraging trend of the NBA’s upper echelon praising, and defending Ball’s game. LeBron, Kristaps, Kyrie, Steph, and others have shared kind words in terms of Ball as a player, and a teammate. Ball’s good standing among his peers may never bring the stars the Lakers’ front office is hoping for, but it gives them a chance.
Ball’s steady performances on this road trip have continued a trend that I have been closely following this season, which is he simply has played better away from STAPLES Center.
On the season, Lonzo is shooting better from the field, averaging more points, assists, steals, and blocks on the road compared to his home numbers. The jarring shooting differences, specifically from behind the arc (35% v.s 16%) have been a surprising development. The reasoning to why is difficult to speculate on, but he has been noticeably more engaged on the onset of these games compared to at home, where he often plays much more passively.
The road trend also coincides with his gradual better play, with December being his best month statistically from the field where he is nearly shooting over 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three for the first time this season. Although these are not numbers to write home about, it does represent a positive step in the right direction for the team’s prized point guard.
The sense of optimism around the team so far during this stretch has been a good sign for the Lakers as they are still firmly in the middle of a brutal schedule with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets both looming. Although the next few games project to be more losses for the Purple and Gold, the hopeful continued glimpses of growth from the young core should keep spirits high in Laker land through the Holidays.
Statistics provided by: NBA.com, ESPN.com