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Brandon Ingram is the Lakers’ X-Factor

Brandon Ingram could be the difference between a Lakers core good enough for contention and one that falls short of that.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Brandon Ingram play for the Los Angeles Lakers over his first two years in the league, the first thing that jumps off the screen — other than that his expression never seems to change — is that Ingram is a physical freak.

The soon-to-be third year forward has the 7’3” wingspan necessary to finish over players of just about any length while also making the search for clean passing lanes hell for opposing players, and the way he glides around the court with his elastic stride gives his game an appearance of effortlessness usually only possessed by superstars.

Ingram isn’t a superstar yet, and he may never be, but regardless of what one thinks of his game, it’s almost inarguable that he has the best natural tools of any members of the Lakers’ young core. How well he harnesses them to take his game to the next level will be the bellwether for how high this group can ascend without major free agent additions.

Lonzo Ball still has the most boom-or-bust potential of anyone on the roster and is probably the most polarizing player of the team’s current core, but it’s pretty clear what he can be if he pans out — a pass-first dynamo who defends well and completely changes a team’s pace and ball movement with just his presence.

Likewise, the ceilings for other members of the Lakers’ young core also appear pretty clear, mainly because we’ve seen players like them. Kyle Kuzma is probably going to be a very good scoring forward, while Josh Hart is a three-and-D guy with maybe a little more off-the-dribble skill than most of that ilk.

With Ingram, meanwhile, the possibilities are as endless as his arms. The Duke product is pretty good at everything, but isn’t truly great at any one thing just yet.

What makes Ingram’s game so tantalizing is that it looks like he could be good at all of them.

Superlative scorer who can get a look off over literally anyone? A shutdown defender? A deadeye shooter who spaces the floor? A point forward? Ingram has shown flashes of all of those skills, but because they’re just flashes, we don’t truly know which one — if any — he’ll ever truly possess consistently.

Ingram could also turn out to be none of those things. There is always the possibility that he never makes another leap like he did from his first season to his second again, and tops out at merely average. People always project young players to hit their best-case scenarios, but almost none of them do.

Ingram could be in that latter group, but based on the aforementioned sophomore leap he took last season, it seems unlikely. Ingram probably won’t make as big of a jump heading into his third season, but that’s mostly by virtue of the fact that he’s actually a helpful player now.

The next step for Ingram is cementing his name among the top young players in the league, a status that will take time and strong play to change because of how quickly narratives about a player congeal and how poorly Ingram mostly played in his first season.

But while he didn’t live up to his potential then, Ingram’s sophomore campaign made it seem as though he certainly can now. And in the event the Lakers can’t sign any big name free agents this summer, much of their ceiling rests on Ingram’s wiry shoulders.

We already know what his teammates can probably be, but Ingram hitting his full ceiling in a couple of the areas he’s shown an aptitude for could be what makes up the difference between a young core good enough to take the Lakers back to contention, and a critically acclaimed one that leaves fond memories for fans but never actually wins anything significant.

Ingram could be the variable between those two scenarios if the Lakers’ grander plans don’t pan out, and it’s why his summer is the most important one for a young Laker in quite some time.

That’s a lot of pressure for someone who can’t even legally drink yet, but the good news for the Lakers is that nothing seems to phase Ingram.

You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, or support his work via Venmo here or Patreon here.

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