Brandon Ingram nearly registered a triple-double against the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night, finishing with nine points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Had he scored one more point and made one more assist, he would have been the youngest player in NBA history to register a triple-double. As a rookie, Ingram’s maturity and all-around skills are impressive, but there is a problem.
When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, there was immediate controversy over whether the team used the pick on the right player. Russell played his rookie season under a microscope, seemingly criticized for his every move. The debate rages to this day, with half of Lakers fans convinced he is a future superstar while the other half are equally convinced he is a journeyman, or worse.
There was no such controversy when the team selected Brandon Ingram with the No. 2 overall pick the following summer. He was hailed as the next Kevin Durant, and the only question was whether he was even better than Ben Simmons who went No. 1.
While Russell fought for playing time in his rookie season and was constantly criticized by his coach, Ingram has played consistent minutes from the very start, albeit off the bench for the most part. He started and played an astonishing 41 minutes against the Cavaliers. His coach raves about him all the time and has relied heavily on him even in the fourth quarter of close games when more often than not the rookie Ingram plays while the squad’s highest paid player, Luol Deng, sits.
Ingram is intelligent, serious, and likable, and somehow, despite his status as a high-profile rookie, he has managed to fly mostly under the radar. But more than one-third of the way into his rookie season, it may be time to place a spotlight on him at last. So far he has gotten a pass from the media and fans alike, but here is the truth of the matter: His shooting has been awful and if anything is getting worse. It may be time to ask, is Ingram merely in the midst of a season-long shooting slump or is it that he is not a very good shooter?
From the moment he stepped onto the court in Summer League to his most recent one-for-eight shooting performance in his last game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Ingram’s shot has not fallen. He has played the second-most minutes among all NBA rookies, so the problem is not a lack of consistent playing time. Nor is his problem a reluctance to shoot – in contrast to Larry Nance Jr., for example, who always hesitates before shooting. It is just that Ingram’s shots have rarely gone in the basket.
Ingram’s struggles certainly contributed to the Lakers’ recent eight-game losing streak. Both he and Jordan Clarkson were not scoring, which is why Lou Williams had to carry the entire scoring load for the team with Russell and Nick Young injured. Rookies always struggle on defense and with turnovers, but based on his reputation at Duke, the Lakers were counting on Ingram to provide consistent scoring from the perimeter and from three-point range, something that was in short supply for the team last year. Instead, the only thing that has been consistent about Ingram’s shooting is that it has been consistently bad.
The perception to this day is that Russell shot very poorly in his rookie season when he averaged 13.2 points per game on 41 percent shooting overall and 35 percent from three-point range, to go along with 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
In comparison, Russell’s rookie statistics dwarf those of Ingram, who so far is averaging 7.7 points per game while shooting only 34.5 percent from the field overall and 28.1 percent from three-point range. More alarming is the fact that these numbers are going down — In the last ten games, he has played 30 minutes a night but is shooting only 30.3 percent from the field.
Though he is much taller than Russell, Ingram is averaging approximately the same number rebounds Russell averaged last year. Further, while Ingram is asked to be a playmaker and usually brings the ball up the court when he is playing, he is averaging only 1.8 assists per contest. Of course, these stats were before his 10 rebound, nine assist game against Cleveland.
By any measure these statistics are unacceptable. In fact, there are very few NBA players performing at this level who get playing time at all. To his credit, while it looked like Russell would sulk at times last year when things were not going well, Ingram seems very mature for a 19-year-old rookie. Unless he hides it well, he doesn’t get rattled and doesn’t get down. He plays hard on defense even when he struggles offensively. His length contributes to steals and altered shots on the defensive end. Ingram’s great attitude makes people want to cheer for him.
If the Lakers drafted Ingram because he reminded them of Durant, no doubt they expected him to be a big-time scorer — at Duke, he made 41 percent of his three-point shots. Durant averaged 20 points a game as a rookie on 43 percent shooting. That isn’t going to happen for Ingram, but still, he has got to step it up and start contributing more offensively.
When Ingram drives to the rim, he can easily be bumped off course because of his very thin frame, making it hard for him to finish. But playing on a second unit where Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson demand a lot of attention from opposing defenses, Ingram gets his fair share of open shots. If he doesn’t start making them at an acceptable level, sometime soon people will begin to question whether Ingram was overrated coming out of college.
Other than minutes-played, which has afforded him an excellent opportunity to learn the pro game and improve, Ingram is nowhere near the top of any rookie statistical categories. This is despite the fact that he is part of a very underwhelming rookie class where the best first-year player, Ben Simmons, has not yet played a single minute.
No one is giving up on Ingram nor should they, especially after the game he had last night against Cleveland. But lost in what was nearly a triple-double is the fact that he again made only one of five shots from three-point range, and nine points in 41 minutes is not inspiring. If Russell, Randle, and Clarkson are going to be criticized on a nightly basis for their inconsistent and often lackluster play, so too should some of that criticism be directed to Ingram. He is being counted on every bit as much as the others to lead the Lakers back into playoff contention. He has got to find his outside shot.