At merely 21 years old, Brandon Ingram has showcased a head for the game and a work ethic that combined with his unique physical abilities should have Lakers fans ready to invest heavily in his future.
Despite those realities, if you were to count the headlines about Ingram versus some of his fellow members of the Lakers’ young core, he’s trailing just about everyone.
Why might that be? Well, an exchange in Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report’s excellent feature on Ingram provides some explanation.
“In the two years that I’ve been in the NBA, I don’t think I’ve played to my ability,” Ingram says. As he speaks, he sounds like someone much older. He takes his time with each sentence, as if making sure each syllable counts. His voice is barely audible, but there’s excitement in it, as if he knows he is a man in the middle of a metamorphosis: not quite caterpillar, not quite butterfly. “Even just me being comfortable and playing my game,” he adds. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on the floor, comfortable.”
To be fair to Ingram, very few players — and especially not young ones — are ever totally comfortable on an NBA court, or hit their ceiling immediately. It’s good that he recognizes this, and his being able to do so means the likelihood of him getting comfortable and improving is way higher.
The other thing working against Ingram in the public consciousness is that — as he addresses in Fader’s profile — he isn’t all that interested in talking. This isn’t even a knock on him. Some people just aren’t comfortable speaking publicly. That Ingram is one of them isn’t some character flaw, it’s just the way he is, though it’s part of the reason he doesn’t garner as much attention as his teammates.
Take Kyle Kuzma, for example. Ingram is objectively a better and more impactful player despite being two years younger, meaning he also has a higher ceiling moving forward. And yet...
The path has been laid down. Kuz is following in the footsteps of greatness. pic.twitter.com/eO1lAh8bD3— SLAM (@SLAMonline) October 5, 2018
As with Ingram, this isn’t a knock on Kuzma. He burst onto the scene and is one of the better stories in the sport. But this idea he’s somehow “next” is pretty insane. Kuzma is incredibly marketable, though. He’s good looking guy and is always ready with a good quote, and has become an expert at mimicking Kobe Bryant’s on-court mannerisms well enough to make Lakers fans swoon. He plays the game, a game that Ingram has never been anything close to interested in.
Marketability isn’t the only factor here, by the way. Kuzma’s first impression was incredibly positive. He had no expectations after having been drafted late in the first round and, to his credit, he exceeded those low expectations with flying colors. Conversely, Ingram was drafted second overall and had a mostly disappointing rookie season. For fans and analysts to come around on him, it would take them admitting that they once judged him too soon.
If there’s one thing we know about sports fans and critics (and people in general) it’s this: They hate admitting they might have been wrong, even if the net effect is that the Lakers have a really promising and talented, young player in Ingram.
It will be interesting to see how this goes over the course of this season and the rest of their careers moving forward. And look, this isn’t even about choosing one over the other. They’re both Lakers! Even if I think Ingram is better than Kuzma, who cares? The Lakers get to benefit from both players’ talent and promise.
You should really check out the rest of Fader’s profile of Ingram. He’s a fascinating person with seemingly limitless potential. If he lives up to that promise, get ready to hear a ton more about Ingram, even if in all likelihood, it almost definitely won’t come from Ingram.