When Brandon Ingram was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 Draft, he joined the team with very high expectations. There were experts who felt he should have gone ahead of Ben Simmons at No. 1 overall.
But three seasons into their careers, Simmons has earned Rookie of the Year honors and is an Eastern Conference All-Star, while the Lakers are still trying to figure out what they have in Ingram.
He showed very little as a 19-year-old rookie, though played in 79 games, started 40 of them, and averaged a robust 29 minutes. The biggest problem was that for most of the season he just couldn’t score, and it was so bad that it was embarrassing at times.
Still, towards the end of the season, Ingram started to learn how to take the blows and finish at the rim despite his thin frame.
Before his second season, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson expressed supreme confidence in Ingram, describing him as the only “untouchable” player on the roster and someone who was sure to average 20 points a game.
Fans were excited to see the “new” Ingram, but his season started slowly and frustration set in. Then, in January, Lonzo Ball went out for an extended period and the coaching staff decided to make Ingram the point guard.
The result was the longest winning streak the Lakers had enjoyed in years. Ingram suddenly took a sizable leap in all facets of his game. His scoring average went to 16.1 points per game and he was solid as a playmaker and on the boards.
The problem was, Ingram kept getting injured himself which limited him to only 59 games played last season.
Ingram got off to a slow start in his third year, with his scoring, assists and rebounds all down from the campaign prior. He has potential to be disruptive with his impressive wingspan, but he hasn’t been special on defense.
One noticeable change is that Ingram has been very aggressive on offense – at times overly aggressive. He has turned into a ball-stopper most of the time, where he dribbles and dribbles before putting up a difficult shot. It seems as though he rarely passes the ball, and when he does, he usually gets it right back so he can dribble again.
As with last season, Ingram made improvement again in January, and this past week that was on full display. To begin the week, he scored a career-high 36 points in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
What was remarkable was his accuracy in that game as he made 16-of-20 shots. It was also impressive that he had five rebounds and five assists, contributing to a well-rounded performance.
In the past, when Ingram had a big game and got everyone excited that he had finally arrived, you could be sure he would disappear in the next three contests. But last week, after his outburst against the 76ers, Ingram followed up with a strong 19-point performance against the Clippers, and 20 points against the Golden State Warriors.
This past month, Ingram has been deadly with his mid-range shot. His shooting average on the season is close to 49 percent, which is very good for the type of game he plays. His scoring average has risen to 17.2 point per game, a career high.
If he stays healthy, his scoring average is likely to continue to increase before the end of the season.
Two things which are still holding Ingram back are his terrible free throw shooting, a career-low 65 percent which is simply unacceptable for a wing player. The other problem is that he is not a three-point threat, rarely taking those shots at all and when he does he connects on only 29 percent.
Aside from the return of LeBron James for one game, there wasn’t much to cheer for last week. Ingram, however, had the kind of week that the Lakers front office has been waiting for the past three seasons. He found a good rhythm scoring at the rim and from mid-range, and when James was not around, he was the best player on the court for the Lakers.
The question is, with the trade deadline looming, will Ingram still be with the team next week? For three years, Ingram has been the one untouchable, and it reportedly cost the team a chance to trade for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. This time around things feel different, with a player the stature of Anthony Davis trying to work his way to Los Angeles.
Ingram has not met lofty expectations so far in his three-year career, but he is still only 21 and has plenty of time to learn and improve. D’Angelo Russell was mostly underwhelming his first three seasons before suddenly putting it all together and becoming an All-Star this season.
Ingram will get better, but whether that journey continues as a Laker or in some other uniform will be decided later this week.
For the time being, however, fans should celebrate a very strong performance from Ingram. For that success, he is deserving of Lakers Player of the Week.
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