The Los Angeles Lakers’ post-Kobe Bryant era is marked by a new coach, a hungry young core and a new dynamic prospect. Rookie forward Brandon Ingram is the latest young stud to join the club’s rebuilding effort, bringing a smooth shooting stroke, long arms and end-to-end agility.
While the Duke product is miles from his eventual peak, it will be fun to watch him develop this season and unleash some of his skills. Along with the other rising prospects, Ingram will work on his craft and try to forge a foundational chemistry. He’s not a franchise savior, but he’s exceptionally gifted for his age (he just turned 19 in September). Ingram will immediately be be an integral and versatile component of L.A.’s resurgence.
Even though Ingram will come off the bench to begin the year, new skipper Luke Walton should carve out substantial playing time for him. He needs exposure to NBA front-line physicality, and he must establish a rapport with the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
Offensive role, expectations and limitations
The key word for Ingram’s rookie campaign is balance. He should get consistent development opportunities, but shouldn’t get worn down like a rented mule. He won’t be a primary ball handler, yet he needs sporadic chances to create and initiate offense. He must get stronger, but at a modest and steady rate. If all goes right, Ingram should log 28-32 minutes per game and a usage rate north of 20 percent.
One of Ingram’s top immediate contributions is his ability to fluidly shoot over almost any opponent. When he deploys his 9’1.5” standing reach with a streamlined shooting motion, it’s tough for opponents to contest his shots. Although Ingram shot just 41 percent overall and 25 percent from distance at Summer League, his Duke exploits suggest he’ll quickly adapt as an NBA shooter.
Ingram torched college opponents last season as a catch-and-shoot weapon as well as a pull-up threat. He went 80-of-195 from three-land (41 percent) at Duke, an outstanding mark for a freshman. He also demonstrated sharp technique when shooting off the bounce, and his shot chart shows that he preferred pulling up from the left side:
Ingram’s off-ball instincts will yield loads of scoring chances in Tinseltown. Russell will connect with Ingram sliding into the open pockets when opposing defenses make mistakes, and Clarkson’s also a decent distributor.
When it comes to attacking the rim, Ingram is a mixed bag. His ball-handling repertoire is impressive for someone his age and height, so he’ll sprinkle in effective slashes in isolation. Ingram will create separation against lots of small forwards and most power forwards. The downside is that his frame is still feathery (reportedly 195-200 pounds), and he will struggle to successfully absorb contact en route to the rim.
Fortunately, he doesn’t always shy away from contact. A look at his Summer League drives shows that he has a great nose for the bucket and is willing to challenge defenders and draw fouls:
Ingram is also adept at anticipating passing opportunities, which is a nice bonus for any tall forward. He dished 2.3 assists per 40 minutes last season and had an assist percentage of 11.4.
It may take weeks or months for Ingram to truly become comfortable with the speed of NBA defenses and consistently diagnose plays. The point is that he’ll bring better vision and passing instincts than the average 6’9″ rookie. Walton took notice of Ingram’s playmaking skills this summer, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
He’s a really intelligent player. He can pass a lot better than I would have guessed, as far as just making the easy and right read off plays. He would come up and ask what our coaching staff thinks he can do better, where he can focus on improving and learning the NBA game.
What does this mean for his 2016-17 statistical outlook? When he comes in off the bench (or eventually starts), he’ll likely be the second or third scoring option on the floor. Guards such as Russell and Clarkson will do a lot of passing, but they’ll hoist a huge chunk of shots. Ingram will also have to share the rock with the likes of frontcourt mates Randle, Timofey Mozgov or Larry Nance Jr.
His rookie offensive numbers won’t be staggering, but enough to put him in the Rookie of the Year discussion: 30.0 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 1.7 APG, 5.5 RPG, 45% FG, 32% 3FG.
Defense and rebounding
Expect an up-and-down year defensively for Ingram. Despite his expansive reach, quick feet and good basketball IQ, he’ll regularly encounter difficult situations. Strong forwards will post him up and undoubtedly draw fouls, while some perimeter slashers will attack him physically.
On the positive side, Ingram will play tough for his 195ish-pound frame and utilize his ranginess and agility. He’ll slide effectively and envelope many wings from 6’6″ to 6’10”, and his length will hinder post players even when they establish good position.
There is a lot more to defense than blocks and steals, but it will be fun when Ingram unfurls his arms to stymie attackers. Here is a small sample size of how his length alters shots and disrupts passing lanes:
Ingram still needs to work on playing in a stance on every possession. That could hinder his overall effectiveness throughout the season. However, Walton noted that Ingram is already making progress in training camp, especially when using his length to fight around screens.
Keep in mind that Ingram has a disadvantage of playing on a young squad that’s struggled to stop anyone the past couple years. They gave up 106.9 points per game last season with a crippling defensive rating of 111.6. It will be hard for Ingram to make the right rotation every time, because sometimes it’s too late or the collective rotations are already screwed up. That’s not to say he won’t be part of the problem in team concepts. It will just be tough for him to access his full defensive capabilities.
I don’t anticipate Ingram thriving on the glass next season because he will lose many positional battles. Thanks to his towering reach, he’ll still scrape together five or more boards per game. Someday he may haul in seven or eight-plus rebounds per game, but not this year.
As previously mentioned, Ingram’s all-around output should put him on the ROY short list. With Ben Simmons’ foot fracture sidelining him until midseason, Ingram’s chances of winning hardware got much better. In my opinion, he has an equal or better chance to win ROY than guys like Kris Dunn and Joel Embiid.