Fortune smiled upon the Los Angeles Lakers on the night of the draft lottery, allowing them to walk away with their top-three protected pick intact. Their slot with the second overall selection was a particularly coveted spot due to the two players at the top of nearly every draft board- Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.
In this top-heavy draft, it’s widely believed that there is a drop in talented once Simmons and Ingram are off the board, and a real debate has emerged over which one of the two should be selected by the Philadelphia 76ers’ first with overall pick.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have essentially landed the easiest decision of the night; all they need to do is select whichever player Philadelphia passes on.
However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t weigh the pros and cons of either player ending up in Los Angeles. It’s a surprisingly complicated issue that requires a closer look at each candidate before one can make the decision to officially join #TeamIngram or #TeamSimmons.
Today, let’s take a look at the player who appears to be most likely to become a Laker: Brandon Ingram.
If you were to give NBA coaches the ability to magically create a rookie small forward and give them whatever attributes they wanted (like 2K meets Weird Science), the end result would come awfully close to Brandon Ingram.
He’s 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan, which means that he can shoot over defenders using nothing more than his freakish length. Ingram has developed a decent turn-around jumper that is tough to guard in the post, and he also does a solid job protecting the rim, averaging an impressive 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes in college.
Make no mistake, though, Ingram is a perimeter player. His length allows him to be somewhat effective inside, but he’s closer to being a shooting guard at this point than he is a power forward. He is at his best in isolation situations that start beyond the three-point line, where he can either rise up and shoot or pump fake and drive past his defender.
The hope is that Ingram will become a superb defender, cutting off passing lanes with his long arms and making it difficult for opposing teams to swing the ball. He only averaged 1.3 steals per 40 minutes in college, but ideally, that number will improve as he continues to learn how to anticipate on the defensive end.
The way he moves on the court can be reminiscent of Kevin Durant, leading some to already place lofty expectations on his NBA career. Ingram can shoot the three effortlessly, and did so at a 41 percent success rate in college. His ability to drive and make the right play or hit shots from deep is one of his most attractive features.
Ingram is also one of the youngest players in the draft at just 18 years old, and won’t turn 19 until just before training camp starts in September. He has a quiet confidence about him that masks his age, though, and did a solid job handling the pressure and spotlight at Duke.
However, while their movements are somewhat similar, Ingram is not Durant, and to expect him to reach that level may be unrealistic.
Of course, the first thing everyone notices about Ingram is how skinny he is. Despite his height, he weighs in at just 195 pounds, and that’s after putting on five pounds during his one year at Duke. In other words, Ingram is like a much taller version of the pre-super soldier serum Steve Rogers.Fortunately, he recognizes the issue and has already begun a strength and conditioning program and is reportedly eating 5,000 calories a day to help pack on the muscle. Still, Ingram won’t be able to safely gain enough weight before the NBA season to prevent being bullied on the court during his rookie season.
Ingram being so thin isn’t the end of the world, and considering his young age, he still has plenty of time fill out. As he ages he will naturally put on more muscle mass, especially now that he is being exposed to a weight lifting program specifically designed to add bulk. He’s spent his whole life being skinny, playing against players who are bigger, older, and stronger than him, so the feeling won’t be unfamiliar, but taking on an NBA athlete is going to be a whole new world.
Ingram also struggled to finish at the rim in college, where he converted only 50.7 percent of his shots around the basket. That number will go up as he gets stronger, and there is already evidence that his vertical is improving, but finishing over NBA shot swatters will be an adjustment.
— Olivier Rogers (@Ososwaggyy) May 28, 2016
For the Lakers, Ingram would be something of a godsend. The team already has talented young players in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle manning the point guard, shooting guard, and power forward spots, respectively. They also have solid reserves at all five positions in Marcelo Huertas (restricted free agent), Lou Williams, Anthony Brown, Larry Nance Jr., and Tarik Black (restricted free agent).
The obvious holes in the lineup are the starting small forward and center positions, with Ingram filling the former perfectly.
His ability to shoot the three-ball is absolutely critical in order for Russell and Clarkson to have the spacing they need to operate, especially in new coach Luke Walton’s Warriors-inspired offense. It’s not difficult to imagine a driving, slashing, splashing whirlwind of fun when all three of them get going.
Additionally, Ingram’s ability to block shots from the weak side certainly would help as Randle isn’t a rim protector (.4 blocks per game). He will need to improve his ball handling in pick and roll situations, but ultimately a Russell/Ingram or Clarkson/Ingram pick and roll/pop could be very tough to defend.
Ingram’s height will also allow him to pass the ball over the top of defenses, leading to some intriguing options utilizing Randle on a pin-down screen and dive. Really, anything that results in Randle having a clean path to the basket is a ferocious dunk waiting to happen.
Defensively, perhaps the most exciting aspect of a Lakers lineup featuring Ingram is the one-two punch that could conceivably be created with him and Brown manning the small forward position.
While Brown struggled mightily offensively last season, he was one of the best individual defenders on the team. If he can gain consistency with his corner three, at least enough to keep defenses honest, Brown’s 6’11 wingspan coming off the bench behind Ingram’s 7’3” pterodactyl arms could certainly make things difficult on opponents.
Of course, Walton will have plenty of time to figure out all the interesting nuances that are available to him should Ingram end up wearing purple and gold, especially after free agency when we have a better idea of how the final roster will look.
The bottom line is that Ingram is an absolutely phenomenal fit with the Lakers, and his age and skill set gives him tremendous upside in the NBA. Whether or not he has superstar potential is debatable, but there certainly shouldn’t be many complaints from Lakers fans if it’s Brandon Ingram putting on a Lakers hat on draft day.