The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and enough cap space to add a second star next summer, but Brandon Ingram panning out could raise the team’s potential ceiling even higher.
Ingram — the former No. 2 overall pick in 2016 — has showed flashes of potential of varying lengths and levels of brightness throughout his short career so far, and he’s basically been a human Rorschach test during that time. Some see greatness, others see a future bust and still more see plenty of things in between.
Basically, everyone sees the same thing when they look at Ingram, but no one can quite agree on what that thing is, although we can count James in the camp that thinks Ingram could be extraordinary (via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports):
“[Ingram’s] got the juice,” James told Yahoo Sports. “He’s going to be a special player.”
This isn’t the first time James has said so, either. Earlier during training camp, he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN that Ingram “has next,” and Ingram has spent the Lakers’ first two preseason games making James look prescient, scoring 10 points in just over 22 minutes per game while scoring efficiently from all over the floor and continuing to make strides as a defender and playmaker.
Ingram continuing to show such progress when the regular season begins is critical for the Lakers, not just because of how him maxing out his skillset could be an attractive thing for the team to pitch to potential free agents this summer, but also because of how Ingram specifically proving he’s a perfect long-term complement to James would be huge for the Lakers.
Every other member of the Lakers’ young core is an archetype of a player we’ve seen before. Ball is a heady, pass-first point guard. Josh Hart is a 3-and-D wing (or maybe something a little more). Kyle Kuzma is a smooth-scoring four.
It’s not really clear what exactly Ingram is yet. There is no easy comparison for him, as despite fans’ love of comparing him to fellow human string bean Kevin Durant, Ingram isn’t — and likely never will be — that type of scorer.
There is nothing wrong with that, it just makes Ingram exceedingly hard to pin down a comp for, as wispy wings who can shoot over defenders, guard multiple positions and play point guard who are still a notch or two below Durant don’t exactly come along every day. We’ve also never seen a player even close to Ingram stylistically alongside James before, further adding to the intrigue.
Can Ingram be James’ Scottie Pippen? A supplementary scorer and lockdown defender who can ease James’ burden? Will he be something else entirely? It’s impossible to say right now, but James seems to be liking what he’s seeing so far from his young partner on the wing — even enough to move up to power forward nearly full time — and given that James is one of the most brilliant minds basketball has ever seen, his faith in Ingram both in word and deed would seem to be an incredibly promising indicator of Ingram’ future potential, and by extension, the Lakers’ own.
We’ll see if Ingram can reward his faith.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.