Brandon Ingram Showed Legit Star Power Amidst Lakers Turmoil

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Brandon Ingram Showed Legit Star Power Amidst Lakers Turmoil
Los Angeles Lakers' Brandon Ingram during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Don’t blame Brandon Ingram for the Los Angeles Lakers‘ recent struggles. He played the best basketball of his career despite February’s trade rumors surrounding Anthony Davis.

Trade season can fragment a team, and the Lakers were rattled when the front office seemed to offer everyone not named LeBron James to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis.

But not Ingram.

His improved run began in December, following a seven-game break after a sprained ankle. In his first 20 games pre-injury, Ingram averaged 15.2 points and shot 47.0 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from three and 62.6 percent from the line.

Over his final 32 games, the last he’ll play this year after a shoulder injury and the discovery of a deep venous thrombosis (blood clot) in his arm, Ingram averaged 20.2 points at 51.1 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three and 69.7 percent from the line.

“I’m making more shots,” Ingram said before his recent health concerns. “I’m still getting to the same spots. I’m still getting downhill. … I just continue to try and be aggressive in all ways.”

Ingram’s outside shot still isn’t a consistent part of his game, though he recently hit 6-of-7 over a two-game stretch. But he’s finally getting a handle on his poor free-throw shooting, as he hit 75.4 percent of his attempts in February—a far cry from 59.3 percent in December.

“The closer I get to the rim, I think my percentages go up,” Ingram said. “I’m just trying … to be aggressive; either draw a foul or get over the top.”

Coach Luke Walton said some of the improvement is shot selection, but primarily, Ingram is growing as a player.

“He’s getting more comfortable and more confident getting to his spots, shooting the shots that he works on in practice all the time,” Walton said. “I think he’s done a nice job of cleaning up some of the shots that we don’t prefer that he takes, some of the isolation mid-range pull-ups.”

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

In comparison, using the same time frame since Dec. 21, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics is averaging 15.9 points on 44.4 percent from the field, 34.5 percent from three and 88.7 percent from the line.

Tatum has a more respectable outside shot than Ingram but is not a knockdown shooter. He’s also more consistent than Ingram at the line, but Ingram has a significantly higher field-goal percentage over that stretch while scoring more.

So why has Tatum gotten so much more praise than Ingram?

“We saw what Tatum can do in the playoffs. Ingram and the young Lakers really stumbled when LeBron was out,” an NBA executive said.

Ingram may have benefitted from the month James sat out with a strained groin. Earlier in the season, he seemed to struggle to play alongside his All-Star teammate. Last year, he had significantly more leeway to create offense, and his deliberate attack—often created in the mid-range off the dribble—seemed a poor fit with James’ ball dominance.

In a sense, the James injury may have unlocked Ingram’s dormant potential. He was far more assertive with the ball, looking to be the Lakers’ primary attacker instead of yielding to James.

Ingram still needs a more reliable outside shot to help space the floor for James, but the third-year man has made a leap as a consistent scorer. The Lakers will have to decide this summer if they want to give him a contract extension before the start of next season. If not, he would become a restricted free agent in 2020. Unsigned, he’ll take up $21.8 million of the Lakers’ cap room until they decide.

While Ingram’s name was mentioned in the rumors for Davis, the noise never seemed to faze him. He’s stayed consistent on the court, and when asked about the potential distractions, he stuck to the “just need to stay aggressive and perfect my craft” stock answers. By nature, he is soft-spoken. His play on the court is where he’s preferred to make his statement. 

Will Ingram’s improved play lock him in as part of the Lakers’ future or as a key piece in a trade for another star to partner with James? Is Ingram enough alongside James for Los Angeles to be a contender?

Not this season. The Lakers may have finally gotten steady, consistent numbers from Ingram, but they’re still not a good basketball team.

How much of that is on Ingram? How much is on the front office for roster composition? Or on Walton for his coaching decisions? How much is bad luck that Lonzo Ball is hurt? James’ absence may have been a positive for Ingram, but the team struggled for wins without its star.

These are the factors the Lakers’ front office will need to mull over should the team make another attempt to land Davis over the summer. In the meantime, Ingram’s consistency is nothing but a positive—making him valuable either as a player or trade chip.         

               

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.

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