The Next Steps: Brandon Ingram
In many ways, sophomore Brandon Ingram looked nothing like rookie B.I.
Consider the jumps that he made in just one offseason: seven more points per game; nearly double his assists average; 7 percent better field goal percentage; nearly 10 percent more accurate from 3-point range.
Now, Ingram — only recently turned 21 years old — will look to continue that development in season three.
Coach Luke Walton has always said that Ingram is at his best when focusing on his all-around game rather than just his scoring. That was reflected by Ingram when he described the player he wants to become.
“A two-way player,” Ingram said at his exit interview. “A guy that can do everything on the basketball floor, whether it’s on the defensive end, getting deflections, getting steals, blocking shots (or) rebounding the basketball.
“On the offensive end, shooting beyond the 3, having an in-between game, getting to the basket. A guy that lives on the free throw line. Just different ways to manipulate the game.”
When Ingram speaks to his goals on the defensive side, all three areas — deflections/steals, blocks and rebounds — are tied to the gift that will be the defining feature of his career: his ridiculous length.
With a condor-like 7-foot-3 wingspan, Ingram has the potential to be a monstrous off-ball defender.
For now, his averages of 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.8 deflections are pedestrian, but that could change once Ingram learns to employ his length to stalk passing lanes and strike as a help-side defender.
Brandon Ingram had some nice defensive possessions against Kevin Durant, but his best wasn't as the primary defender.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) December 19, 2017
In crunch time, he knows KD's going to try to post up Lonzo, so he keeps his eyes on them the entire time until pouncing over for the steal. pic.twitter.com/FvnfaEgwmj
Likewise, his 5.3 rebounds per game were just 15th among small forwards last season, but he flashed his ability to fight for boards using those extensive arms.
And as Ingram has shown more than capable of directing the offense in transition, the Lakers will benefit from him more frequently ripping down a defensive rebound and immediately attacking.
Brandon Ingram was out there making plays in transition.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) January 27, 2018
Uses that 7'3" wingspan to tap the rebound to himself and immediately fires the outlet assist. pic.twitter.com/UX9owTPZWm
Ingram’s length has already begun impacting his play as an on-ball defender. Opponents shot 2.4 percent worse than their season average when guarded by Ingram, per NBA.com.
He also contested the league’s sixth-most 3-point shots, joining a list of league leaders that included defensive stalwarts like Victor Oladipo and Jrue Holiday.
His wingspan allows him to force opponents into bad shots even when he has to scramble around screens.
One of Brandon Ingram's best defensive halves of the season. Contested a ton of shots.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 24, 2018
Watch him fight past two screens to get a piece of this one. Then pushes ahead in transition and sets Randle up for the slam. pic.twitter.com/z6I5zxRvuD
On the offensive side of the ball, President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson challenged Ingram to score between 15 and 20 points per game; he responded with a team-leading average of 16.1 points.
Ingram has stated that he wants to become a three-level scorer, and has already shown a ton of progress in this development.
He was at his best attacking the rim, where he used his spidery legs to stride past defenders and his aforementioned length to finish at angles that are unavailable to other players.
Ingram averaged 3.4 buckets in the restricted area, which was seventh among guards and wings, and did so on a healthy 61.8 percent shooting percentage.
Brandon Ingram can cover some ground.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) December 23, 2017
B.I. picks up his dribble behind the free throw line and finishes at the rim. pic.twitter.com/m0LYLPsANF
Ingram also made a noticeable leap in his mid-range game. He averaged 0.9 makes on a 37.2 percent clip as a rookie before springing to 1.5 makes on 41.2 percent last year.
While many teams (including the Lakers) have largely eschewed mid-range shots in favor of more attacks at the rim and 3-point attempts, it is important to have a counter to defenses that attempt to take away those areas of the floor.
Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are two Lakers who could potentially punish opponents for leaving the mid-range available.
Brandon Ingram making things happen with 8 pts & 4 ast in 12 minutes.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) January 8, 2018
Freezes Belinelli with the fake pass and splashes the baseline fadeaway. pic.twitter.com/hbNTk8E9D4
Of course, no shot in 2018 gets more attention than the 3-pointer, which is where Ingram has made possibly his biggest leap since entering the NBA.
Ingram spent plenty of time during the previous offseason making adjustments to his shooting stroke with assistant coach Brian Keefe. Combining better form with improved shot selection, his 3-point percentage inflated from a paltry 29.4 to a robust 39.0.
While Ingram did see his 3-point attempts decrease — from 187 to 105 — his makes stayed about the same — from 55 to 41, despite playing 20 fewer games.
A key factor in this was the quality of the shots that Ingram took. Rather than launching 3’s off the dribble, he struck off catch-and-shoot opportunities. He averaged 1.09 points per possession on spot-up attempts, ranking in the NBA’s 76th percentile.
Brandon Ingram has been money from all three scoring levels over his last four games.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) January 13, 2018
10-of-14 on layups
8-of-11 on pull-up jumpers
7-of-11 on 3-pointers
20.8 pts, 4.8 ast, 60% FG
: https://t.co/z5kFZL8fIQ pic.twitter.com/KDZaWe0aR8
While most of Ingram’s 3-pointers came by playing off the ball, his overall game was at its best when the Lakers allowed him to run point.
Ingram started 10 games at point guard in February before his season came to a premature end. He excelled, averaging 18.6 points and 5.2 assists, and made improving his on-ball skills a priority heading into the summer.
“That’s something that I wanted to do already,” Ingram said at his exit interview. “My ball handling skills, shooting the basketball, whatever I need to do this season to make my game better and a whole lot easier on the offensive end.”
This ability for a small forward to run point is one of the reasons that Magic Johnson called Ingram “the most versatile player we have on the team” during exit interviews.
1A) Brandon Ingram has thrived since taking over at the point, averaging 6.5 assists and only 2.0 turnovers.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 10, 2018
Ingram's pace-pushing has been essential to maintaining the team's high-speed identity, and his vision in the half court continues to improve. pic.twitter.com/RLYloDqsdT
Playing point and attacking the rim will also be crucial to Ingram’s goal to “live on the free throw line.”
He averaged 4.8 foul shots last season (2.1 more than the year before), and will look to continue to increase that number, even if opportunities to run point become scarcer with the presence of Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo and LeBron James.
That desire to draw more fouls goes hand-in-hand with what Ingram calls the “transformation of my body.”
Before he was even drafted, analysts latched onto Ingram’s skinny frame as something that could hold him back at the NBA level.
Although “Slenderman” (as his teammates call him) has nonetheless found ways to be effective against grown men, he is committed to bulking up. From defending the post to finishing through contact, Ingram’s entire game will be serviced by however much he can add to his body.
Brandon Ingram has done a great job finishing through contact tonight.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 3, 2018
Four and-1s to go along with 16 pts and 9 ast through three quarters. pic.twitter.com/kfSGqicHb2
Magic Johnson also hopes that adding muscle will improve Ingram’s durability. After missing 23 games last season, it is one of the few areas where Ingram would like to revert to his rookie year, when he only sat out three.
Still one of the youngest players in the league, Ingram still has plenty of time to mold himself into the kind of player he wants to be in his prime.
Yet with the Lakers’ expectations suddenly soaring with the arrival of James, it will be up to Ingram and the rest of the young core to prove that their potential isn’t just something years away.