Los Angeles — Even with LeBron James sidelined with injury, and even with the Los Angeles Lakers coming off of their fourth loss in five games since James went down, Lonzo Ball says he doesn’t feel like there is extra pressure on himself and Brandon Ingram to deliver for the team.
“There’s been pressure on us since we got here, whether we have guys or not. We’re a big part of this team and we’ve got to bring it every night,” Ball said.
That’s a fair point, but while Lonzo might not feel there is extra pressure, per se, there are certainly differences in his and Ingram’s roles for the team this year since James went down.
Ingram has used 24.5 percent of the Lakers’ possessions since James got hurt, while Ball’s own usage rate has climbed to 17.8 percent.
Those are literally bigger roles than they’ve ever played in the NBA, as on the season Ball is using 16.4 percent of the team’s possessions after using 16.8 percent during his rookie campaign. Ingram is using 22.8 percent of the Lakers’ possessions over the course of this season season after using 21.7 percent last year, and 16.5 percent during his rookie season.
That may not sound like that much more responsibility, but ratcheting up Ball and Ingram’s usage while all of a sudden having defenses key more in on them without James — and to some extent, Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo — to panic them elsewhere has been a real and meaningful shift in their responsibilities.
“It’s a significant adjustment,” Ingram said.
The other change for Ingram and Ball is that aside from being asked to do more than ever before, they’re also being asked to play a different way. In Ingram’s case, he’s being forced to facilitate more for his teammates, assisting on 15.1 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while he’s on the floor after only managing 11 percent over the course of the season.
Ingram’s growing pains in this role are on display in the corresponding rise in his turnover percentage, from 12 percent to 13.2 percent. Again, not the end of the world, but when the Lakers are struggling to score like they have, every possession matters.
For Ball, the Lakers need him to score more than ever. His shot attempts have risen from 9.3 per game on the season to 12 since James and Rondo went down, and his shooting percentage has actually gone up, from 40.8 percent to 46.7 percent.
Still, Ball’s extra burden has shown up in the extra turnover he’s averaging per game, and the elephant in the room is that neither he nor Ingram have shown enough proportional growth in production to either justify their increased responsibility.
By that same token, Ball and Ingram also haven’t made themselves look like the types of can’t-miss prospects the Lakers need them to be, whether to either justify keeping them long-term, or to entice another team to give up a disgruntled star for them in a trade.
After the Lakers’ recent struggles culminated in a loss to the moribund New York Knicks on Friday night, Luke Walton summed up why Ball and Ingram’s struggles have made things so tough on the team.
“We need (Lonzo) being aggressive to not only score but play-make for others. Brandon and Lonzo right now are our primary ballhandlers, and I think they led us in turnovers tonight,” Walton said. “I’m not putting the blame on them, but that’s part of the responsibility of being a point guard, or being a primary ballhandler-slash-playmaker, is taking care of the ball and getting guys going, and getting other guys easy looks.”
So far, Ingram and Ball haven’t lived up to those responsibilities, and it’s time to wonder if this all might be too much, too soon for the pair, to the point that it might be stunting their development.
Our own Pete Zayas (aka Laker Film Room) took a look at how this might be the case for Ingram — beyond just this five-game stretch — and statements like the one Ingram gave after being asked if he’s felt comfortable this year don’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence that he’s feeling confident.
“There’s been times where I’ve felt good when we’re winning basketball games. It feels good to win basketball games. I’ve never felt satisfied,” Ingram said. “I’ve felt comfortable in games where everybody was comfortable on the basketball court, shooting their shots and getting to the rim.”
Maybe this is reading too much into one postgame quote, but especially on the heels of so much recent self-criticism from the third-year forward of late, Ingram’s answer appeared at-best to be an obfuscation to avoid saying he’s uncomfortable.
At the very least, it was not a ringing endorsement that Ingram is feeling comfortable in his own individual game.
Again, it’s possible that this is over-analysis. Maybe Ingram and Ball really aren’t feeling any extra pressure. But when looking at how their roles have changed for the Lakers, how much less confident they’ve looked and sounded, and how the team has struggled in the wake of their production not increasing in the face of their increased responsibility, it’s hard to feel like this has been a good stretch for Ball and Ingram long-term, from either their individual perspectives, or the team’s.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.