Brandon Ingram probably is the most talented player on the Los Angeles Lakers outside of LeBron James. His fit with James isn’t necessarily perfect, but at the end of the day, you acquire talent and see where it goes from there. If things do work with those two, the league should probably watch out.
Assistant coach Jesse Mermuys was asked about the impact LeBron might have on Ingram during a sit-down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com and he was effusive with his praise, while also saying it might take some time for the two to hit their ceiling together:
It’s exciting to see where B.I. takes this. Because there is a ton of potential there for him. He has to get out there with these guys and figure it out. It’s going to take some time for him to really figure out where he can be his best with a player like (LeBron). Obviously, none of these guys have played with a player like that. So there’s going to be a learning curve.
But because of (Ingram’s) size, length, slashing ability, passing ability … there’s a lot of upside there for him. It’s incredible to me that he’s (not turning 21 until September). In the stretch where he was so great that you alluded to, he was playing a lot of backup point, and that would be the most exciting part of it. We talked about positionless basketball and the dynamics of that and for another team to have to defend against that.
It’s just really valuable when you have a 6’9’, 6’10’’ dude that can shoot turnarounds, handle in pick and rolls, make pocket passes, Euro step from the free throw line for a layup. That’s just hard to guard. And the older he gets, the stronger he’s going to get, the longer those strides are going to get, the more contact he’s going to be able to take.
So when you’re working with that frame, what he was able to do in February, his ability to do a bunch of different things is exciting, especially for a fit alongside a guy like LeBron.
Mermuys preaching patience follows the tone offered up by James himself when he was asked about his expectations for this team. Mermuys is also obviously on the money when he mentions the caliber of player James is, and how tricky making that work can be. Yes, James makes the game easier on everyone around him, but it takes time to adjust to such a high-usage player when you’ve had the ball as much as Ingram has over the two years he’s been a Laker.
Ingram’s length is the key here. Preferably, he’d bulk up a bit as well so as to be able to switch all over the court, but for now, that length can make up for a lot he might lack, say, on the perimeter. Ingram’s natural position is small forward, but in circumstances where he has to slide up and guard shooting guards for a play or two, that length can help where his lack of foot speed might hurt him.
But his creativity on offense is what really makes Ingram an exciting hypothetical teammate of LeBron’s, who hasn’t ever played with a small forward capable of the things Ingram showed last season. If Ingram is able to handle the ball effectively enough to allow James to float or cut off-ball, the Lakers’ offense will become all the more dangerous, and James can save some energy to be just a little better on the other end.
Ingram’s shooting is a bit of a concern, though. While he improved over the course of the season, he never really did so at the volume you’d like to see. Given the number of attempts he took per game, it’s hard to draw any kind conclusions about how he’ll perform in that regard next season.
As much creativity as he might add, it’d be pretty hard to play him alongside James if he can’t properly space the floor.
Of the various things to look forward to next season, to me, this is the most intriguing aspect of the next campaign. Ingram’s fit next to LeBron is what will really raise this team’s ceiling to new levels. There are certainly ways around pairing the two if they don’t quite click, but in order for the Lakers to be serious contenders, Ingram and James need to be able to spend tons of time on the court together.
Listening to Mermuys, it seems like that’s eminently possible, even if it will require some patience.