The sun may ever be shining in Los Angeles, but that hasn’t stopped a cloud from hanging over the rookie class of 2016, including Lakers forward Brandon Ingram. The former second overall pick spent most of the 2016-2017 season mired in the fog, failing to live up to lofty expectations.
It wasn’t just Ingram, either. Number one overall pick Ben Simmons and a temporarily healthy Joel Embiid missed most or all of the season due to injury while the rest of the class did what they could to keep their heads above water. Malcolm Brogdon was a find for the Milwaukee Bucks with the 36th pick, but his Rookie of the Year win after averaging just 10.2 points and 4.2 assists per game speaks volumes on the overall quality of the class.
In June of 2016, Lakers fans celebrated the selection of Ingram, who was the silver lining to yet another season of struggles. When all was said and done, however, the lanky Ingram barely made the All-Rookie second team despite few other youngsters impressing. It certainly wasn’t the debut campaign that he was hoping for.
The draft can be a crapshoot, and any particular year could wind up being a disappointment. For the Lakers, though, who historically rarely have a high pick in the draft and are desperate to rebuild, the pressure was on for them to land a star.
For much of the season, Ingram struggled, offering only glimpses of the potential that had scouts drooling before the draft. Still, little by little his play improved, and along with it, his confidence. While some around the league prophesized his downfall, the Lakers held firm that he was a potential star.
After all, it’s foolish to write off a rookie after just one season. Adjusting to the rough waters NBA is not a simple matter, and some players take a little longer than others to get their sea legs.
At 6’9” and blessed with a 7’3” wingspan, the hope is that Ingram will eventually become a Dhalsim-esque monster on the defensive end, walling off passing lanes and erasing shots with his endless arms.
His shot was mostly MIA last season, but after hitting 41 percent from three in college, there is hope that he will eventually start finding the bottom of the net. He also gained more confidence taking the ball to the rim as the season wore on, a point he drove home with multiple thunderous dunks in the final weeks.
It also has to be noted that Ingram was one of the youngest players in the league last season, and could easily have been part of this year’s rookie class. He was competing against NBA players just weeks after turning 19, which made his transition all the more difficult.
Already rail thin, Ingram just wasn’t quite ready physically for the jump to the pros, but he has put in a lot of work to change that. Focusing on adding strength rather than simply gaining weight, he has dedicated himself to a weightlifting routine and workout regiment.
The results have already been evident. Not only has Ingram noticeably added muscle to his frame, but it’s functional strength, which allows him to maintain his quickness. In his lone Summer League game, he absorbed contact well on both ends of the floor and even switched onto post players without getting out-muscled.
The Magic Johnson-helmed Lakers franchise envisions a return to Showtime, with Lonzo Ball flinging passes all over the floor and everyone running like hell, but it’s going to take versatile players like Ingram to give head coach Luke Walton the flexibility to match-up defensively with whatever gets thrown at them.
Additionally, Ingram projects to eventually be able to play three positions (from shooting guard to power forward) on the offensive end, which gives the team plenty of mix-and-match options.
His playmaking was put on display when he would occasionally take over at point guard for the Lakers second unit last season, and if rookie Lonzo Ball can bring passing back into style the way he did at UCLA, then we should see Ingram with even more options when he has the ball in his hands.
With players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez spacing the floor in the starting five, the hope is that Ingram will find more room to operate and get easier looks at the basket. Given the work he has put in this offseason and the natural development of his game, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ingram make major statistical strides next season across all categories.
Patience is a virtue, and from all accounts, it appears that the Lakers intend to give their prized second overall pick plenty of time to develop. His rookie season may have been a bit rocky, but from what we have seen so far, keeping the faith now with Ingram could pay off big-time down the road for the Lakers.