Editor’s Note: Starting this week, we will be debuting our Silver Screen and Roll staff rankings of the most interesting Lakers heading into next season (The 15 guaranteed contracts plus the two guys on two-way contracts). Today we have No. 2, Brandon Ingram, leaving (as you probably expected) LeBron James at No. 1 to come tomorrow.
The summer of 2018 has been amazing for the Los Angeles Lakers. That much goes without saying, because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Lakers landed the biggest fish in free agency this summer when LeBron James chose to head west.
Laker nation can’t stop talking about LeBron in the purple and gold, with every radio station and TV talk show discussing and debating on why the four-time MVP decided to come to the City of Angels.
But between James’ signing, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball reportedly adding more muscle, Josh Hart catching bodies in the Las Vegas Summer league (while also winning MVP of the tournament), and the surprising new additions in Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley, we’ve somehow forgotten about one of the most interesting prospects the Lakers still possesses: Brandon Ingram.
The lanky, 6’9 forward reportedly has been working on improving his footwork and coordination through a series of drills which includes picking up a cone, catching and dribbling yoga balls, and doing it all with a mixture of ball-handling and finishing at the rim with contact. He’s also been boxing in what looks to be an attempt to sharpen his footwork and hand-eye coordination.
What makes Ingram the second-most interesting Laker to focus on this season is how his style of play will mesh with the new acquisitions, mainly James. Ingram showed promising glimpses towards the end of the 2017-2018 campaign, where Lakers coach Luke Walton had opted to use Ingram as the primarily ball handler. He responded by averaging 16.4 points, 5.8 boards, and 5.3 assists per game to go along with 53 percent shooting over the last two months of the season.
While B.I was considered a silky-smooth shooter at Duke, his progression to the NBA has yet to make him a threat outside the paint. Teams will live with him taking tough contested jump shots, because they believe he is most dangerous at attacking the rim. While Ingram has made strides in his sophomore year at his shot selection (evident to his improvement from 40 percent shooting to 47 percent last year), he must continue to improve and hone his form to make him a real threat while James has the rock.
So just how good can B.I be? The answer is that we just don’t know. Ingram will be always be viewed as another “Kevin Durant-esque” type of player because of their similar body frames, but it’s highly unlikely he will ever develop the scoring prowess that Durant possesses.
However, it’s not quite a reach the level of Ingram’s arms to point out that he can develop into a player similar to Kawhi Leonard, a wing who can pick his spots offensively while becoming a defensive-minded doberman that’s dependable enough to guard opposing players in isolation.
Still, if you compare the two player’s offensive games, Kawhi is still a better mid-range shooter, and arguably a better shooter overall from deep than Ingram. Leonard just has a smoother arsenal with his more refined skill set, but that should go without saying — and be expected — since he’s been in the NBA since 2012.
But Ingram’s offensive game is coming along nicely. During his sophomore season, Ingram has learned to start using his body to his advantage, utilizing his size and length to bypass and create space to shoot over defenders. Unlike Leonard however, Ingram doesn’t possess the large hands that Kawhi has. Still, Ingram has a longer wingspan, and can cover more ground using his foot speed, and use that to bother opponents. With agility and length to cover so much ground, Ingram has the potential to cause havoc on the defensive end with his 7’3” wingspan.
Ingram’s ceiling may very well be Kawhi Leonard, and that is an absolute best-case scenario Lakers fans should be thrilled to hear. Give the Lakers organization credit, since they were reluctant to trade him away this past offseason, because they (justifiably) want to see how this maturation process unfolds.
But the Lakers are once again gambling, since Ingram’s potential is unknown. Despite his flashes of brilliance, he may just never pan out. The Lakers are banking on Ingram to be special. They want him to become a franchise cornerstone. Anything less and he may very well become a part of a trade package. That makes Brandon Ingram very interesting, and a player that is worth monitoring under a microscope this upcoming season.
With James, Rondo and Ball, it’ll be interesting to see if Ingram will have the ball in his hands often to create on this team. It’s more likely that B.I. will be utilized as more of a slasher/scorer. We saw glimpses of some of the best stretch of Ingram’s young career when he had the ball in his hand in the final months of the season, but circumstances changed when LeBron came to L.A. The Lakers did not pursue the best player in basketball to have him sit in the corner.
And with the reality that James will have the ball a ton comes the fact that, quite frankly, there’s going to be a huge adjustment period for the Lakers, Ingram included.
Training camp will be key for this core of guys. While there is nothing quite like playing with LeBron, it’s safe to say both Ingram and Ball will not have the ball in their hands like they did last season. The offense will shift to a lot of quick, decisive plays. There will be less opportunities to survey the floor as a scorer as well, so Ingram must be prepared to catch the ball in an offensive threat position.
Those changes aren’t a bad thing, though, and could bring with them improved efficiency. Ingram and the rest of the Lakers will have plenty of opportunities to put the ball in the basket with James running the offense, because there will be a lot of open looks and opportunities to score with so much attention catered to James.
With LeBron James in town, fans — and probably the team as well — would be thrilled if Ingram can strive to play a “Scottie Pippen-type” of role so he can lessen James’ workload.
No one knows the answer to just how much is going to change in Laker land this season, but one thing’s for certain. If you’re going to get LeBron James’ respect, you better be a workhorse whose capable at delivering when it matters. The young Lakers must all simply rise to the occasion and prepared to bring their A game every night.
And if Brandon Ingram can demonstrate a huge and drastic improvement in his third year, the Lakers may not need to pursue wing options like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2019, or Ingram could combine with those two and James to form a big three if he goes up a level, raising the Lakers’ ceiling as a franchise as well.
The question to how James changes his own, or Ingram’s, playing style will not be answered at least until training camp, where we should have a better idea on just how much the young Laker prospects has improved. When that starts, all eyes will be on Ingram as he looks to mesh with LeBron while also showing just how good he can be.
The countdown so far:
1. LeBron James
2. Brandon Ingram
3. Lonzo Ball
4. Kyle Kuzma
5. Rajon Rondo
6. Josh Hart
7. Ivica Zubac
9. Moe Wagner
10. Michael Beasley
11. Svi Mykhailiuk
12. JaVale McGee
13. Isaac Bonga
14. Lance Stephenson
15. Luol Deng
16. Alex Caruso
17. Travis Wear