(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Ingram and Kuzma: Anatomy of Twin Career-Highs
In a battle between future stars of the NBA, the Lakers’ starting forwards held their own against Philadelphia, as Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma both dropped career-highs in scoring.
Were it not for a monstrous performance by Joel Embiid (46 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, seven blocks), the Ingram/Kuzma duo would have owned the night and, likely, provided a Lakers win.
Nonetheless, the two packaged together impressive performances, particularly attacking the teeth of the 76ers’ defense.
Here’s a look at how Ingram and Kuzma got what they wanted.
Brandon Ingram (26 points, 11/18 FG, 4/5 FT)
“Tiny Dog” was in Cujo mode against the Sixers, also collecting his career-high in rebounds with 11 boards.
Ingram began the game aggressively, getting his first three basketball off drives to the hoop.
That opened up his mid-range game, as Ingram shot a healthy 5-of-8 on inside-the-arc jumpers.
Here, he loses Ben Simmons with the pump-fake and drives to the paint, where 7-foot Embiid steps out to greet him. Ingram reacts appropriately, using his long strides (usually going toward the basket) to create space on the step-back jumper.
But Ingram’s main weapon — as it’s been all season — was his slashing. The 20-year-old put in work on Philly’s strong wing defender, Robert Covington, hitting five of his buckets against the Sixers’ 3 and D savant.
But here he is guarded by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who gets stuck on a pick from Andrew Bogut. The only defender left is the best one on the floor, but Ingram goes right at Embiid and manages a tough finish near the rim.
Finally, Ingram ends his career night with a highlight on both ends of the floor.
J.J. Redick tries a 3-pointer but underestimates Ingram’s 7-foot-3 wingspan. B.I. manages to get a piece of the shot and immediately leaks out for the fast-break pass from Jordan Clarkson. He’s ahead of the defense and throws down the uncontested slam.
Kyle Kuzma (24 points, 9/18 FG, 1/4 3P, 5/6 FT)
Like Ingram, Kuzma did most of his damage on drives to the rack. But while Ingram’s success stemmed mostly from his length, Kuzma’s came from his speed.
In particular, he dusted his defenders with three baseline drives. He has succeeded with this move all year long, but usually against slower, larger power forwards.
This time he also sped past fleet-footed players like Ben Simmons.
Kuzma — who tallied eight of his nine baskets around the rim — has been excellent on driving layups, hitting 14-of-17 of those shots this season.
He has also shown off a mature hook shot (7-of-12 on the year), which he broke out twice in the fourth quarter.
Most notably, down two with six minutes left, Kuzma pushed the ball ahead in transition and Philadelphia failed to stop his momentum.
Embiid and Dario Saric both challenged him in the paint, but his sweeping hook gave him a sky-high release point, and Kuzma had the right amount of touch to bank in the tying shot.
Kuzma has already shown to be a scorer beyond his years, with excellent footwork, speed and shooting (as his 31.6 percent 3-point clip is likely to grow).
As he continues to test his abilities against NBA defenders, the 22-year-old will also learn to manipulate defenses. Here is a good example of Kuzma tapping into his playmaking ability.
As Embiid steps up to contest his drive, Kuzma hits a cutting Julius Randle for the easy slam.
But Kuzma’s chief strength will always be scoring, especially with his fearless driving.
Just ask Embiid, who was fortunate to simply send Kuzma to the foul line instead of ending up on the receiving end of this sledgehammer slam.