If there is one thing to take away from the preseason for the Los Angeles Lakers — besides that LeBron James is on the team now — it’s that Brandon Ingram is ready to break out.
The sophomore forward was held out of the team’s final preseason game against the Warriors, but it wasn’t because he didn’t show out in the previous five contests, in which Ingram averaged 24.4 points and 7 rebounds per-36 minutes, including a 31-point and 9-rebound outing in which Ingram also dished 3 assists and swiped 3 steals against the Sacramento Kings.
The whole exhibition slate has seemed to reinforce the idea that Ingram has an incredibly promising future, but his fellow Kinston, North Carolina native and Grizzlies assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse already knew how good Ingram can be. He told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report that he thinks Ingram has next:
“Within the next five years, I think Brandon could be one of the top five or 10 players in the game,” says Jerry Stackhouse, the former NBA All-Star who is also Ingram’s mentor and former AAU coach.
Could even Ingram’s endless arms reach such lofty heights? It’s too early to say for certain, but the signs are there that Ingram can at the very least be really good. He’s impressed teammate LeBron James, who says Ingram is “going to be a special player” and wants to help him get there. Their fellow Laker Lonzo Ball has also said that Ingram is already on an All-Star level, and Ingram has said reaching that midseason exhibition is his goal for this year.
Becoming a top-five or ten player is different than being an All-Star though. It’s a lot harder, for one, and that’s why only five or ten players can do it. Ingram has the raw physical skills necessary to reach such rarified air, and he also has the impressive and near-universally admired work ethic required for superstars to become superstars.
But even if Ingram doesn’t get as good as Stackhouse thinks he can, that doesn’t make him a failure. At just 21 years old, Ingram is already showing the skill necessary to potentially be the second-best player on a LeBron James-led title contender. If he continues on his current trajectory, he’ll end up as one of the best players in the NBA and a player any contender would love to have. If he does so on the Lakers, his youth and contract status could allow him to be L.A.’s second or third star for cheap, giving the front office room on the margins to get other players as they try to build a title contender.
Ingram’s ascent would also presumably come in tandem with James’ decline if the latter isn’t actually an immortal cyborg that’s impervious to injury. If Ingram’s game keeps rising as James’ starts to fall off, then it would also protect the Lakers from a post-James lull and allow them to seamless transition into their next era while also taking some burden off of James and allowing him to be more effective in his final years.
For now, though, James is still the best player in the NBA, and Ingram could learn a lot by complementing his skillset on the floor and seeing greatness up close, experiences that could aid in his development.
If that crash course allows Ingram to break through and reach his potential, he’ll raise the entire team’s ceiling. And if he becomes as good as Stackhouse thinks he can? Then the sky is the limit for the Lakers for the next decade.