Almost immediately after LeBron James signed his four-year, $153.3 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency last summer, questions were raised about which player on the existing roster would emerge as his co-star. Would it be Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma? Would a dark horse like Lonzo Ball or Josh Hart enter the race?
While the answer to that question is still up for debate, Ingram has forced his way to the top of that conversation. However, he didn’t always see it that way.
In an interview earlier this month, Ingram told Bill Oram of the Athletic that he was really unhappy with the way he played for the Lakers in the beginning of the season:
“Oh, I was terrible,” Ingram told The Athletic when asked about the first half of his season. “I was shitty. I don’t think I played with a lot of confidence. I just wasn’t making shots.”
Ingram has a reputation for being his own biggest critic, so his harsh evaluation of his game shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, however, he did make a pretty substantial leap at the midway point of the season.
In his first 15 games of the 2018-19 campaign, Ingram averaged 15.8 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the field, including 34.5 percent shooting from behind the arc, all to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Not bad numbers, but not numbers that scream “future All-Star.”
Compare that to the 15 games Ingram played prior to going down with a shoulder injury for the last few games, in which he averaged 23.3 points per game on 55.1 percent shooting from the field and 38.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line while also contributing 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He’s been incredible, and it’s been long enough to where it shouldn’t just be considered a simple hot streak.
Ingram’s confidence has played a big role in his uptick in production, but so has his improved free-throw shooting. Over his last 15 games, Ingram, a career 66.2 percent free-throw shooter, is shooting 77.4 percent from the charity stripe on 6.5 free-throw attempts per game. Those free-throws are the difference between a 15-point per game scorer and 20-point per game scorer.
With all that being said, Ingram was actually a more impactful player for the Lakers to start the season. No, his shots weren’t falling at the same rate as they are now, but he was playing defense at a higher level.
In his first 15 games this season, Ingram was posting a defensive rating of 105.1. Over this last 15 games, he’s posting a defensive rating of 114.5 and an overall net rating of -4.5. He’s been so bad on defense that not even his impressive scoring run can save his net rating.
In his defense, though, he’s been asked to do a lot more on the offensive end recently and his individual defensive numbers are reflective of the way the team has performed as a whole on that end as of late, so the team’s slippage is affecting these stats. When the Lakers are engaged and communicating on the defensive end, Ingram has been a big part of what they’re able to accomplish.
At 21 years old, Ingram still has a lot of room to grow as a player, both physically and mentally, but that’s what makes him such an exciting prospect. If this is just the tip of the iceberg for Ingram, the Lakers might have a special player on their hands.