LOS ANGELES — When Brandon Ingram was addressing reporters after the Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, he made a quick aside about why he was able to be effective that has mostly gone overlooked (emphasis mine).
”With me getting in the lane and defenses collapsing, I see a lot of guys open that I didn’t see earlier in the season. It helps my game out a lot and it helps their game out a lot,” Ingram said, before adding that his “feel for it” — with “it” being playmaking — is getting a lot better.
That is no small development for the Lakers, especially as they ask Ingram to play a larger role in their offense than he’s ever played in his career. 23.3 percent of the Lakers’ possessions over the 11 games since LeBron James went down are ending in an Ingram shot, assist, free throws or turnover when he’s on the floor, which according to NBA.com is a higher usage rate than Ingram has ever posted in his career.
A lot of the burden of that usage has come as a passer, and Ingram’s numbers back up his assertion that he’s making incremental improvements in that area.
Ingram has assisted on just 12.2 percent of the Lakers’ baskets while on the floor on average this year, but over the last 11 games he’s assisted on 16.5 percent of their buckets. That’s continued to trend upward over the team’s last five games, with Ingram assisting on 18.8 percent of the Lakers’ baskets in that frame, which is a higher assist percentage than he’s ever posted over the course of a full season.
Ingram’s recent playmaking run culminated in a night he assisted on 26.9 percent of his team’s baskets while on the floor against the Bulls, which is the fourth-highest assist percentage he’s posted this season. Two of the other three games he’s assisted more also have come since James went down, which means that to some degree this is due to Ingram’s increased usage, but if he’s delivering on that extra responsibility that’s still important.
“He was taking control as far as calling plays and getting guys in spots,” Walton said of Ingram’s game against the Bulls. “That’s the best version of Brandon. That’s what we’re always trying to encourage. For him to play that way was a huge part of that fourth quarter for us.”
It’s impossible to know if Ingram has truly and genuinely turned a corner, but he’s undoubtedly showing progress as a passer over a month in which he’s mostly taken criticism for his lack of growth. This doesn’t excuse the stagnation he’s shown in some areas, but it’s still worth noting that the 21-year-old seems to think the game is slowing down for him.
If Ingram can take that improvement and use it to make other areas of his game more efficient, he may just figure out how to take advantage of his prodigious potential after all.
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