“I live in the moment for the player I am now, but I always look down the line to see how much better I can be.”
These are the words that Lakers’ Brandon Ingram gave to the media during the team’s recent round of exit interviews. Ingram is coming fresh off of his second season of professional basketball for the purple and gold, and in many ways, he made significant strides this season in reaching the high expectations of his front office, fans, and himself.
The Kinston native was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2016 NBA draft behind Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons. While Simmons sat out his rookie season with a broken right foot, Ingram struggled to stand out on a 26-win Lakers squad.
From a statistical standpoint, Ingram was one of the worst players in the league as a rookie. His initial struggles caused some critics and fans to question if his thin frame, inefficiency, and inconsistency foreshadowed a bleak career trajectory for the lottery pick. Fortunately for the Lakers, year two promptly silenced almost all of the concerns.
The differences from Ingram’s rookie and sophomore year predictably would trend upward, but the amount of growth and variation that was displayed was quite staggering. The evolution process began as it does for most players: over the summer and in the gym. The former Blue Devil put in the necessary work and dedicated himself to improving on the floor and getting his body to a more capable NBA physique. His frame, as thin as it still may seem to the naked eye, discretely became toned and assisted in helping not only finishing through contact but initiating it.
As the sequence above shows, Ingram finds himself in a late clock isolation possession against the Golden State Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia (a solid team defender) and wisely attacks the big man off the dribble with a combination of a short handle cross over then aggressively bounces the center off of him in route to a finger-roll.
A reminder: Pachulia is listed as a 275-pound human being (also one of the more notable dirty players in the NBA) and the player often referred to as “Slender Man” and “Jack Skellington,” bounces him off his hip like George Costanza does to elderly women and children.
This sequence is one of many examples of Ingram embracing the contact that just last season he would often shy away from. The amount of physicality that is now present in his game can be exemplified no further than looking at the number of foul calls he creates per contest.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Brandon Ingram had a solid 12.6 shooting-foul percentage (76th percentile) as a rookie. This season he has raised that number nearly by three percent and ended the year with a ridiculous 15.2 shooting-foul percentage, which ranked in the 95th percentile among all NBA wings. To put into context the level of foul calls the former Duke standout received this season, these are the names of other notable players which he recorded higher percentages than this year: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and Anthony Davis.
Ingram’s uptick in trips to the free-throw line expectantly was correlated to more trips to the paint per game. This correlation is just one component of what has been an entirely new shot profile for Ingram in year two. Let’s look at his shot chart from his rookie season:
As the chart indicates, Ingram spent a majority of his time in the paint with a preference for the short midrange, which when combined accounted for nearly 55 percent of his attempts. He did show to be at least a willing threat to let it fly from the three, as a quarter of his looks came from behind the arc. The latter became an interesting and worrisome development, as Ingram was in the mere 19th percentile when it came to 3-point accuracy and in the 18th percentile in frequency according to Cleaning the Glass, which was an area of expected strength for Ingram leading up to the draft.
This season, Ingram lived at the rim as it accounted for 45 percent of his shot attempts (86th percentile among wings) and often gravitated, and preferred to open up shop in the mid-range to an even more extreme than year one. It is in this area of his game where Brandon will need to instill variety and more value. When unable to get into the paint, he often found himself settling for midrange looks either off of screens or in isolation which was not always a poor decision, but often it came in the expense of a better option specifically an attempt from three.
It would be on thing if the three-ball was absent from his basketball repertoire, but for he and the coaching staff to completely dismiss the perimeter when it was arguably the most efficient area of the floor this season was possibly his sole misstep this year. Ingram’s level of success statistically from beyond the arc this season compared to year one was baffling. As a rookie, he shot only 29 percent from beyond the arc. This season, he raised it a complete 10 percent, ending the season at a 39 percent clip (40 percent if you remove heaves and garbage time from the equation).
The success, unfortunately, did not correlate to more volume, as that aforementioned quarter percent frequency from three as a rookie, dropped critically to only 12 percent as a sophomore. The main detractor of these attempts came in the form of the dreaded long range two, which accounted for a whopping 26 percent of his total shot attempts (the frequency ranks higher than 85 percent of all NBA wings). Below is one of the most prominent examples of Ingram completely ignoring the three-point line and settling for a more difficult and less valuable shot:
As the clips shows, Kevin Durant switches off Larry Nance Jr’s screen leaving a slow initial close out by Draymond Green to pick up Brandon Ingram. In a split second, Ingram finds himself completely able to step back and be open for a look from three, but the complete evasion of the line prompts him to both step in and pump fake a long two which allows the defensively stout Green to make up ground and force the miss.
This is not to suggest Ingram to completely get rid of his mid-range attempts, as with his height and length advantage over most defenders it could provide a valuable option, but rather to simply add more variety to his profile. Ingram’s exact role varied significantly twice this season. Initially, he was treated more as a go-to-scorer in isolation for a team inept early on in terms of offense. But as the season progressed, an injury to the team's point-guard, Lonzo Ball, prompted Ingram back into the role of primary creator.
The Point-Ingram experience relied heavily on working out of the pick and roll, in which he struggled in terms of points per possession in these actions. Usually, the possessions either ended in he pulling up over his defender once again in the mid-range or driving into the congested paint. He lacked an overall shot diversity to keep defenders on their heels and towards the end of his injury-ridden season, his offensive game became predictable. Yet, it is not solely his responsibility to improve in these areas, as the coaching staff also needs to recognize this heading into the summer and create a more modern offensive scheme to best capitalize the exciting potential he possesses.
The drastic increase in accuracy from range this season signals he has the able stroke to at the very least be an average three-point shooter, which with his improved finishing ability and comfortable in-between game, could help put more polish on a developing young talent. In terms of his overall offensive numbers, they all encouragingly and significantly trended upward, as he averaged more points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and made bountiful leaps in his aforementioned shooting percentages.
The counting stats do not always cohesively correlate to talent or efficiency, but in regards to someone of his age and measurements, it does help signify a rare breed of a multi-dimensional player, as he is one of only seven players this season to average at least 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, and shoot at least 39 percent from three.
There were often instances this year during the Lakers’ several nationally televised contests where commentators noted on how different Brandon Ingram looked on the court compared to last season, and in reality, it was because he was different.
The aggressiveness, the shot profile, and the confidence all painted the floor with glimpses of what is ultimately still to come. The 20-year-old star in the making is seen as a cornerstone of the historic Lakers franchise, and despite some needed areas of work, he has arguably earned that status this season.
Statistics and media provided by stats.nba.com unless otherwise noted.