Rookie Ladder (old archive)

Kia Rookie Ladder: Brandon Ingram takes a spin at point guard for Lakers

Injury to D'Angelo Russell will allow rookie forward to showcase his playmaking skills as a starter

Scott Howard-Cooper

This is just another chance or an unwanted chance, considering the reason for the opportunity. Or its the latest chance, because coach Luke Walton has created big openings for Brandon Ingram all along by playing him more overall minutes and more fourth-quarter minutes than any other newcomer.

The difference is the timing. Ingram is starting at point guard again with D’Angelo Russell expected to be sidelined approximately another week by a sprained right knee and strained right calf. That’s happening at the very moment Ingram is playing with better consistency than any time this season. There is a strong case to be made, in fact, that he has been more consistent than any Laker.

At the very least, it’s another sign of Ingram’s versatility, already one of the selling points for the No. 2 pick from 2016 who has started at small forward (his projected true position) and both backcourt spots. But an elevated role while shooting 43.5 percent and averaging 12 points the last 10 games makes this his biggest chance, all with the running start of production meeting starting job.

That, in turn, gives him the opportunity to accelerate his climb up the Rookie Ladder. He’s risen each of the last two weeks and we’ll see if the good play continues while going from handling the ball mostly with the second unit to being the No. 1 point guard.

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 1

Opponents are not the problem — the version of an Embiid slump is the streak of 20-point games ending at 10 last Friday, when he had to settle for 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks … in 22 minutes. It’s the health issues. He did not play Saturday at Atlanta to rest on the second of a back-to-back, did not practice Monday because of a bruised left knee, did not play Tuesday against the Clippers at home and is scheduled to rest Wednesday at Milwaukee. All indications are the knee problem is minor. Anyone associated with the Sixers will hold their breath anyway.

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 2

He is staying around the top 10 in the league in 3-point percentage, at No. 10, after converting at least half his attempts in six of the last nine games. At 42.5 behind the arc for the season, he is far ahead of second-place Davis Bertans of the Spurs (40.5) among rookies. Brogdon’s 43.7 shooting overall is also ninth in the class in a continuation of the strong play as a shooter and distributor that pushed him up the board in the first place.

3. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers (3)

Last week: No. 3

This has become a month-long shooting slump, with Saric at 32.7 percent in January and a bottom-scrapping 22 percent (9-for-41) the last four games. That has dropped him to 37.1 percent for the season. The counter is that Saric is finding other ways to contribute to the Philadelphia surge, with at least six rebounds in nine of the last 14 games with an accompanying good run of 3-pointers within those 14 games.

4. Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans

Last week: No. 4

His shooting is going in a bad direction again, at 39.1 percent for the month after 43.5 in December and while unable to make more than a quarter of his attempts in three of the last six games. The good news for Hield is that he is still surrounded by a weak field – the 39.4 percent overall looks bad, but is 12th among rookies, and he is second in 3-point shooting while also fourth in scoring. Plus, five games in eight days beginning Wednesday means a lot of chances to recover. Or not.

5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Last week: No. 5

Just when it seemed he was returning to the rotation, with 15, 11 and 19 minutes in three consecutive games, Siakam spent all Sunday and Tuesday on the bench. He’s still at 17.5 for the season, a decent number that comes with the additional credibility of 35 starts on one of the best teams in the league. The real campaign material, though, remains the standing in several categories: second in shooting, second in blocks, fifth in rebounding and ninth in defensive rating. That offsets the inconsistent role.

6. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

Last week: No. 7

He does not stand out in one area — fourth in blocks is the only top-five spot — but is everywhere in the top 10 in a level of consistency rare for the class: seventh in scoring, seventh in rebounding, seventh in shooting and fifth in steals. Chriss’ free-throw percentage has become a positive with the improvement from 50 percent in November to 62.1 in December to 78.6 percent the first 11 games of January. That’s a lot of things going in a good direction.

7. Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 6

The move to 15 and 14 minutes the last two games is an encouraging sign after disappearing from the rotation, even if both were in blowouts. Just as importantly, he is shooting 40 percent in eight January appearances, an offensive tear for Harrison that moves him to 30.6 for the season. The lack of serious threats to pass him and his work in other areas keeps Harrison securely on the list, at second in assists, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, fourth in steals, fifth in minutes, eighth in defensive rating and ninth in scoring.

8. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 9

Part of the new watch is how far Ingram climbs among rookie assist leaders now that he is starting at point guard, even temporarily. He is eighth at two assists per game, but with so many clustered right in front of him that he could potentially jump all the way into the top five by getting to 2.5 per game. That is possible even on a team that does not shoot well. This comes at the same time his own field-goal percentage is improving, the obvious weakness, while Ingram is also fourth in rebounding, fifth in scoring and first in minutes.

9. Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets

Last week: No. 8

Nineteen assists against six turnovers the last seven games marks a big improvement in an area that needed to get better, with Whitehead at a 1.34-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is fourth among rookies in assists at 2.8 and pressuring Atlanta’s Malcolm Delaney (2.9) for third, while also eighth in scoring, 11th in shooting, sixth in steals and third in blocks. The chance to move up in several categories will come with Jeremy Lin sidelined by a hamstring injury and Whitehead at 29 minutes in two of the last three outings.

10. Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets

Last week: Not ranked

LeVert averaging 18.5 minutes a game would be a positive no matter what after a leg injury caused him to miss much of 2015-16 at Michigan and his first 19 NBA games. Among rookies, LeVert is No. 9 in scoring, No. 5 in steals and No. 8 in 3-point percentage and is easily one of the success stories of the class. He has not reached the qualifying minimum to be ranked in shooting, but the 45.5 percent would be fourth.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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