After a sluggish start to the season, Lakers’ rookie Brandon Ingram looks like a brand new player. 

During the days leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft, the debate for the first overall pick was widdled down to Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. After one season at Duke, Ingram’s polish on the offensive end generated Kevin Durant comparisons, but failure to live up to those during the first half of the season led to him being labeled a bust.

Calling a rookie a bust before the conclusion of his first campaign is silly, premature and irrational, but the turnaround that Ingram’s had is making everyone retract their words.

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Since Los Angeles is doing their best to tank, all of their young guys have had the leashes removed and given carte blanche to do whatever. It hasn’t resulted in many wins, and the Lakers are worse on the season’s backend, but the additional minutes have given Ingram time to figure himself out, and it finally looks like the game is coming naturally to him.

In 20 post All-Star contests, Ingram’s minutes are at 32.3 a night, up from 27.7. He’s scoring more points and shooting a better percentage, which is what he built his stock on in college. Even as the Lakers’ fourth option, he’s averaging 13.4 points on 48.7 percent shooting — that’s a higher clip than Julius Randle (48.2), Jordan Clarkson (43.2) and D’Angelo Russell (42.5).

Ingram’s noticeably more aggressive now. Tuesday night he put Cheick Diallo on an incredible poster, but it’s not the first time it’s happened. Despite being as light as a paper clip, Ingram’s length and athleticism allow him to finish around — or even over — defenders without much of a problem, and his newfound slashing style is what’s breeding this improvement.

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Over his 20-game stretch, Ingram’s attempting 4.8 shots inside of 10 feet, and he’s converting on 64.3 percent of them, according to NBA.com. Of the 12 Lakers who shoot at least two shots from that area, Ingram’s clip is the highest. In the 58 games before the All-Star break, Ingram was last on the team in percentage (45.3) and was shooting just 2.9 a night.

The shots in the paint are coming a little easier for Ingram because he brings an effective mid-range shot to games now. Even though his three-ball isn’t where we were expecting, being a reliable shooter from 15-19 feet makes defenses come out to guard him just enough so that he can get a step if he chooses to drive.

Ingram’s good for 3.1 mid-range looks a game, and he nails 46.8 percent of them, a 15.2-point improvement from pre-All-Star. His length plays a role that as well since he’s able to shoot over defenders without having to take a dribble. He’s also developed the confidence to take shots from that zone repeatedly, and he barely averaged two attempts during his first 58 games. (These stats are according to NBA.com.)

The across the board improvement is enough to push Ingram onto the All-Rookie First Team, and, if you didn’t know any better, maybe even into the rookie of the year race. For the season, Ingram ranks ninth in points (9.8), tied for eighth in assists (2.1) and 10th in rebounds (4.0) and it’s primarily due to playing poorly for so many games.

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Adjusting the split to post All-Star, his 13.4 points are second to Dario Saric and Buddy Hield, and he shoots better than both of them. The rebounding has dropped slightly to 3.8 a night, and he remains eighth with 2.4 assists, but he’s accumulated 20 steals in those 20 games. One a game isn’t much, but it’s better than 98 percent of the rookie class.

If Ingram brings this tear into next season and adds a three-point shot to it, we could be looking at a legitimate 16-18 points a night from him, and that would easily launch him into Most Improved Player conversation.

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