LOS ANGELES — Before the Los Angeles Lakers took on the Milwaukee Bucks in March, Jordan Clarkson needed a pair of headphones.
Surveying the Lakers locker room with his sweatshirt hood up and the collar pulled over his mouth, Clarkson eventually settled on Brandon Ingram, telling the "rook" to hand over the red, over-ear headphones the 19-year old listens to prior to every game.
"14 more games," Ingram muttered to Clarkson and fellow rookie Ivica Zubac, begrudgingly handing Clarkson his headphones.
While Ingram may technically be a wiry rookie subjected to the whims and headphone taxes of his teammates for a few more games, he's no longer been at the mercy of his opponents.
Even before that night against the Bucks, Ingram had begun a post All-Star break run in which he's begun to show the type of growth most thought he might not start to show until his sophomore season.
Over his last 15 games, Ingram is averaging 14.3 points per game on 51.8 percent shooting, a far cry from the eight points on 36.3 percent shooting he was averaging before the All-Star break. He’s scored in double-figures in 12 of his last 13 games.
"I think after All-Star I had a different mentality,” Ingram said after dropping 14 points against the Sacramento Kings, and it’s shown in his play.
During his recent tear, Ingram has increased his efficiency (a true-shooting percentage of 57.3 percent over his last 15 games compared to 45.2 before the break), despite a larger workload (using 19 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while on the floor vs. 15.7 percent heading into the All-Star break).
Despite his relative inefficiency earlier this season, Ingram was known for how smooth his game looked.
That hasn’t changed. His offensive repertoire is still silky, but over the last several weeks Ingram has increased the regularity with which he’s utilized his endless arms to straight-up throw down on helpless defenders.
“I think these last couple of games I've been using my length and attacking the rim,” Ingram said, as Kings big man Georgios Papagiannis got two up-close-and-personal looks at Friday:
"Just attacking the rim,” Ingram said of his thoughts on the latter dunk, making it clear the increasing sizzle in his game hasn’t translated to his answers in postgame media scrums. His head coach is happy to do the talking for him.
"It's impressive is what it is. He just keeps working,” said Luke Walton. “I'm not surprised he got here, obviously he puts in the time. He's a gym rat, he's watching film every day on other players and he watches his own clips with our assistant coaches. It doesn't surprise me he's starting to figure it out, but it is impressive he did it in the middle of his rookie season."
Ingram said he’s been working with Lakers assistant coach Brian Keefe constantly on how to best utilize his length in attacking the rim.
"It's something that comes natural when you do it literally every single day,” Ingram said, and his increased comfort has resulted in his 44.7 percent shooting at the cup before the All-Star break skyrocketing to 66.7 percent over his last fifteen games.
The only thing holding Ingram back lately has been the minutes restriction (due to patellar tendinitis) that kept him out of the fourth quarter against the Kings. The good news for Lakers fans is he says he feels okay.
“To be honest I could go without it. I think it's all mental when I step on a basketball court, so I really don't feel it at all,” Ingram said.
The organization is understandably being more cautious with the help of their promising recent lottery pick, and that’s at least in part because this recent stretch has shown them everything they need to see from Ingram’s debut campaign.
"No, not really,” Walton told Silver Screen and Roll when asked if there was anything else he wanted to see from Ingram before the season came to a close. “Just to continue to play the way he's been playing.”
The way Ingram has been playing has been pretty good, and as for whether or not fans can expect more poster dunks and acrobatic finishes at the rim when he’s no longer a rookie next season, Ingram keeps his answer characteristically simple.
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.