It doesn’t take much more than a simple glance at his physical measurements to recognize that Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram is a unique basketball player.
Standing at 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan, Ingram has flashed the ability to dribble like a guard, rebound like a forward and extend around the rim like few others, skills that put him rare air in the eyes of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka:
“If you look at young players around the league, there’s only a few, the Giannis-type players, the Wiggins, that can really unfold at the basket like Brandon can.”
Ingram’s weaves and extensions around the court are aesthetically one of the most entertaining aspects of recent Lakers’ basketball, and is partly reason why many feel he could play the Scottie Pippen to LeBron James’ Michael Jordan, and recently Ingram shared his own high expectations for this season — be named an All-Star.
Ingram’s aspirations for the upcoming campaign may be lofty, and realistically difficult to achieve considering his age and a loaded Western Conference wing subdivision, yet when examining his preseason play and sophomore numbers from last season, there is one area of his game that offers evidence that such a scenario could eventually be in the cards for Ingram — his astonishing free-throw rate.
Last season, Ingram was among the league’s best in drawing fouls, so much so that he bordered elite status.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the former Duke Blue Devil was in the 95th percentile among wings in shooting-foul percentage (the percentage of player’s shot attempts he was fouled on) and in the 92nd percentile in floor-fouled percentage (percentage of non-shooting fouls a player draws per team play).
To better put the extent of fouls that Ingram drew into context, his 15.2 shooting foul percentage last season was a higher mark than notable players like: Paul George, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan and even his new Lakers’ teammate LeBron James.
The reason Ingram draws so many fouls per game is primarily tied to the aggressiveness and concentrated effort he displayed in attacking the rim last season.
Making up 45 percent of his shot frequency profile (86th percentile among wings), Ingram relentlessly lived within four feet of the basket, exhibiting the extra confidence second-year players have over traditional tepid rookies in taking it to the rack.
Physically, Ingram doesn’t possess the prototypical NBA body one would expect a player with this type of bulldozing to have. Often referred to as the mythological horror figure, “Slender Man,” because of his prolonged and thin limbs, Ingram’s lanky frame in actuality disguises an inherent toughness.
Working tirelessly on his body, and adding mass, Ingram’s improved physical core strength and conviction could be seen on every drive last season. No longer was he steering away from traffic or contact, he was initiating it.
Often dropping his shoulder to create separation like he did in the clip above, Ingram exhibited better spatial awareness in getting to his spots and drawing contact.
His “unfolding above the square” as Pelinka put it, is an adequate description of the amount of length and extension Ingram unravels on his drives against his defenders, making him one of the most unorthodox covers in the league and more susceptible in getting fouled.
Once in the lane or in the air, Ingram tends to cradle the ball before fully extending, which unleashes a last second amount of tremendous arm length that flails directly within his defender’s proximities, making it near impossible to avoid creating contact at his point of release.
The drastic difference in his free-throw rate from year one to year two starkly paints the picture of this new skill. Despite playing in 20 less games, Ingram attempted 68 more free throws as a sophomore (282) compared to as a rookie (214).
This volume, and talent, of getting to the line has seemingly carried over to this preseason, if not improved completely.
Tallying two games with 15-plus attempts, Ingram finished his preseason play tied for third in the league in free throw attempts per game (8) and — ironically for Lakers’ fans — only trailing Kawhi Leonard (8.3) and Paul George (9) for top honors.
Arguably more impressive than the sheer volume he has displayed is his improved efficiency from the stripe.
Ingram converted his free throws at an 80 percent clip during the preseason, which is encouraging considering he had yet been able to clear the 70 percent threshold in either of his first two professional seasons.
If Ingram’s newfound volume and efficiency carry over to the regular season and throughout his career, history has showed us that good things will come Ingram’s way.
Excluding centers, there were only nine players who attempted at least six free throws a game last season. Of those nine, eight were all stars, one was the Sixth-Man of the year and leading the bunch was the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Ingram averaged nearly five attempts a game last season, and if he continues the aggressiveness he displayed in the preseason, that number should rise this upcoming year.
But ultimately, trips to the charity stripe will not be the only part of Ingram’s game he needs to keep seeing growth in if he wants to be named an All-Star one day. His efficiency needs to improve across the board, his shot selection needs to be tinkered in favor of more valuable looks — specifically a higher 3-point volume — and he needs to be much more active and impactful on the defensive end.
All of these areas are expected to see stark improvements playing alongside James this season, and according to him have been notable focal points of his offseason training regimen.
Like for most 21-year-olds, it’s difficult to predict what the future holds Ingram. Yet, from the substantial improvements he’s already made from his rookie to sophomore seasons, and ahead of being a part of a possible playoff team, he looks set to have a great chance to reach his future goals — one free throw at a time.