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Laker Film Room: The problem with how the Lakers have developed Brandon Ingram

The Lakers have tried to use Brandon Ingram as an isolation scorer, and Laker Film Room breaks down why they may need to reevaluate that approach.

NBA: New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Our own Pete “Laker Film Room” Zayas did a long Twitter thread on Brandon Ingram and the way he’s being developed by the Lakers. It was really good and worth your time, and we have posted a lightly edited version below so you can read it all in one place.

One of the first videos I ever made (which has since been blocked) was “How Brandon Ingram Fits In with the Lakers” leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft. It was 26 minutes long .

He was a good scorer in college at 17 points per game, but he wasn’t an electric one. He was the second-leading scorer on Duke to Grayson Allen, who was a sophomore. By comparison, RJ Barrett is averaging 24 ppg and Zion Williamson is at 20 ppg this season.

But it wasn’t solely Ingram’s scoring ability that got him drafted second overall. It was that when you watched him — just focusing on him no matter where the ball was — you came away thinking “damn, this dude does a bit of everything.”

He was so physically underdeveloped to begin his rookie year that it was easy to recognize that it was gonna take a minute for him to get acclimated to the NBA. So we celebrated his minor successes and were understanding about his struggles.

During the first half of his rookie year, he was part of an excellent bench unit of Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black. Lou and JC created the shots, Nance and Black did the dirty work and BI provided perimeter defense while mostly just getting out of the way on offense.

Ingram moved into the starting lineup in the second half of the year, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka came in, Lou was traded, and Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov were benched to get minutes for young guys in a year where the Lakers were hoping to keep their top-three protected pick.

Ingram looked a lot better in the last couple of months of that season. He was moving more fluidly, wasn’t just a two-foot jumper anymore and was knocking down his jumper with regularity. There was lots of reason for optimism about him going into that summer.

This is where the TYPE of guy that he was expected to be began to change. Magic mused in the summer of 2017 that they’d be disappointed if BI didn’t average 20 ppg… A season after he averaged 9.4 ppg.

Even if that wasn’t intended literally, the message was clear… Ingram was expected to become a go-to scorer, and soon. And I feel like he’s been trying to live up to that ever since.

Last season began with a starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Larry Nance Jr., Brook Lopez and Ingram. Brandon was the only guy in that lineup who could get his own shot. He went from 9.4 ppg the year before, to being expected to be the ONLY guy who can get his own.

OF COURSE his efficiency was weighed down by an offensive burden that he wasn’t ready to handle, his advanced metrics were terrible, and the Lakers had one of the worst offenses in the league to begin the year.

Julius Randle got into the starting lineup 34 games into the season, and the Lakers went on an 8-2 stretch after Lonzo got back from injury. BI was REALLY efficient during the front end of that streak, but he hurt his knee in Dallas & missed a couple of games.

He struggled when he came back, Lonzo got hurt again, and Luke decided to move him to PG after a 22-point loss in Orlando, where Ingram and the team as a whole looked particularly listless. Josh Hart replaced Tyler Ennis in the starting lineup.

BI put up 16/8/10 in a win vs BKN in his first game at starting PG. He went on to average 20/4/6 on 62.2 TS% over the next 7 games and the Lakers went 4-3. A lot of the offense was run through Randle and Lopez during this stretch, even though Brandon was the “PG”. Remember these?

Lonzo came back from injury, and the shot creation duties were split between him, Brandon and Julius. The Lakers went 4-0 as Ingram averaged 17/6/8 on 62.4 TS%. Then BI got hurt in Miami, essentially ending his season.

My main Ingram takeaway in that stretch was how he thrived when he was asked to be one of the playmakers, but not “The Man.” It was also when he shot his best from three. It was the only time in his career where his role was aligned with his natural talents.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were defensive specialists early in their careers, and the first priority in their offensive development was turning them into reliable shooters. Their on-ball offense grew over the course of years, and it was the last piece of the puzzle.

The Lakers have skipped the steps in between and rushed straight to the end game, where you put the ball in Ingram’s hands, hoping he gets buckets for himself and teammates. In doing that, they’ve cultivated the worst tendencies in his game.

Ingram is not ready to be an go-to guy — it doesn’t even play to his natural talents — and the Lakers haven’t focused on improving him off of the ball. The result is a guy who struggles to play off of LeBron, but doesn’t thrive without him either.

He’s not a lost cause at all, but priority No. 1 should be the development of his catch-and-shoot abilities. There hasn’t been enough progress in that area because he’s been groomed as an on-ball scorer instead.

Both the tape and Ingram’s Play Type data have told the same story in each of his three seasons: He’s at his best when he’s asked to something other than run ISOs or operate as the pick-and-roll ball-handler.

Ingram’s youth + body type + not being clearly incapable in any area makes it easy to project your wildest fantasies onto him as a player, but the Lakers need to take a closer look at who he actually is instead of who they want him to be.

If you are for some reason not doing so already, you can follow Pete on Twitter at @LakerFilmRoom, or check out his latest video on Lonzo Ball here.

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