Who would’ve thought that making Brandon Ingram a primary ball handler would have a tremendous benefit for the Los Angeles Lakers?
As a rookie, we made jokes at the expense of Brandon Ingram because the internet is harsh and doesn’t allow young players to develop. He didn’t score at the rate we saw at Duke and shot the ball atrociously from everywhere. Furthermore, Ingram didn’t have any other ways to impact the game. But that’s all starting to change.
Ingram has made significant leaps as a sophomore, lifting his scoring average to 16.0 points a night, and doing so with a true shooting clip of 52.9 percent. It took a season for him to learn how to create shots for himself, and there’s still a lot of untapped potential in that facet of his game. The Los Angeles Lakers look toward him to be one of their first options on offense, and he was the team’s leading scorer until Isaiah Thomas came along and dropped 22 points in his debut. Los Angeles, however, has been experimenting.
With the NBA’s evolving landscape, the most dynamic players do a little bit of everything. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and James Harden are the league’s four-best players, and none of them are one-dimensional. Younger stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard (before his injury) were beginning to establish a more well-rounded foundation because it’s a prerequisite to becoming a star. Brandon Ingram may never reach that level, but it’s still beneficial for the organization to have a low-usage swiss army knife.
Lonzo Ball was supposed to give the team a reliable starting point guard, thus allowing Ingram to work away from the ball and free himself up for open shots. Unfortunately, Ball’s been battling an MCL injury and has been out since January. His return is expected after the All-Star break. In the meantime, the Lakers looked toward Jordan Clarkson and Josh Hart and Alex Caruso to supplement those minutes at the lead guard spot. Ingram has also seen a change. He’s more of an orchestrator and has thrived.
Brandon Ingram hasn’t officially logged any minutes at point guard, according to Basketball Reference, but he’s dealt with those responsibilities. As a result, his assist numbers have inflated. In the Lakers’ last 11 games (wherein they are 7-4), Ingram’s up to 5.0 dimes a night, the second-highest on the team because Thomas had six in his debut. Of course, we could limit the list to players who have appeared in more than one contest, making Ingram the leader.
His unselfishness hasn’t forced him to adjust how he plays. Ingram by nature is a scorer, and he’s averaging 13.4 shot attempts during this stretch, a deviation of 0.4 from his season average. His scoring hasn’t seen a dramatic change either, and he’s up to 16.8 in his last 10. The point guard (forward?) version of Ingram is the result of him actively seeking out his teammates. He’s approaching the game with a different mindset — why settle for good shots when you can wait an extra second for a great one to open up? Additionally, he’s not going out and trying to make the homerun play. His assist-to-turnover ratio is indicative of that.
At 2.5-to-1, Ingram is slightly above average because of his conservative play. Few passes are high risk, and it seems that Ingram is aware of not being a marvelous passer. Some of the guys with a higher ratio than him are names you’d expect: James Harden (2.71), Ben Simmons (2.86) and Nikola Jokic (3.30), just to name a few.
Against the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 2, Ingram handed out a season-high 10 assists, and only two turnovers accompanied it. At no point during that game did he deliver a pass that made you go “wow! how’d he do that?” That not an indictment. The reactions were more along the lines of “wow, what a nice read.” Whether it was a drive-and-kick or a dump off on the fastbreak, Ingram put the ball where it needed to be.
Ingram — on top of making the simple play — has been able to scan the floor rapidly and complete a risky pass every now and again. For someone who’s never had to focus on that part of his game, the improvement is refreshing. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, his first assist of the game happened because of a quick reaction. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope caught the ball at the top of the key and drew two defenders — Josh Huestis (his man) and Steven Adams (the helper). With no shot available, KCP kicked it out to Ingram while the Thunder’s defense was scrambling.
Patrick Patterson, who started the possession guarding Julius Randle on the block, rotated up to prevent the pass to Brook Lopez. Adams also ran out to Lopez because of what appeared to be a lack of communication. Randle was then open underneath. Ingram took one dribble and zipped a pass over the outstretched arm of Adams which resulted in an uncontested dunk.
That pass may not seem tough, but it’s a turnover if Ingram doesn’t react right away. There was a similar play in the Lakers’ game against the Magic.
Ingram’s knack for scoring comes from his size. He exploits mismatches at an astonishing rate because of how long he is. When matched up against Elfrid Payton, he could elevate and get a shot off with no issues. Alex Caruso was in the corner as Ingram began to size up his Payton, and Jonathon Simmons was in the position to help. Simmons didn’t see his man and the ball. As Ingram was about to pull up, Caruso cut and was left open. Ingram saw him flash and got rid of the rock instead of shooting it.
As I said earlier: these types of plays are routine for premier passers. For Brandon Ingram, this is an entirely new way of playing. And he’s fared just fine. The Los Angeles Lakers will have him in the role for the foreseeable future, and it’s going to make them tough to defend.
Ingram doesn’t possess the sixth sense like LeBron James, but his playmaking skills will improve. As long as he’s making the right decision, the coaching staff will have no problems keeping him as a secondary ball handler.
All stats are current as of games played through February 13.
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