With LeBron James’ signing with the Lakers, morale and expectations are high again. Some may be unrealistic, but the playoffs should be the team’s floor, and anything higher depends on how the rest of the team develops. One thing is for sure, however, and that’s he won’t be able to do it himself if he wants to preserve himself for the next four seasons.
Plus, every great has had a partner to help him or her out. Batman has Robin, Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, and Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson. It’s hard to do things alone, and sports are the perfect example of that. Other than 2007, whenever James made the NBA Finals, he always had at least one other All-Star on the team or someone of that caliber. And when he won a title, he had at least two All-Star-caliber players.
With all the ‘castoffs’ and young kids on the team, he does not have anyone of that ability quite yet. The young guys have high potential but are still relatively new to the team. However, there is one guy, a wild-card, who can change the outlook of the upcoming season. And that is 21-year-old Brandon Ingram. He has the potential to turn into that second star, and each improvement he makes from his second season, the Lakers will go that much further.
Ingram is entering his third season as a pro and is looking to build off what was a massive improvement from his rookie to sophomore seasons. His average scoring output increased from 9.4 points to 15.8 points, his efficiency improved from 40.2% from the field to 47%, his long-distance shooting jumped ten points to an impressive 39%, his assists/game nearly doubled to 3.9, and his rebounds increased from 4.0 to 5.3.
He was the best high school player to many coming out of high school, and the Lakers took him second overall in the 2016 draft. Listed at 6’9, with a 7’3 wingspan, a good scorer with handles, and the potential for being a sharpshooter, Ingram’s ceiling is sky-high. He’s been compared to Kevin Durant, but that may be a bit overblown because of how elite of a shooter (and in volume) KD is.
However, Ingram has shown great handles and the ability to run an offense as a point guard, unlike Durant. And with his wiry frame, he reminds me of Giannis Antentekoumpo. He became more consistent with his jump shot as the season went on, but we want to see it become a legitimate weapon.
Ingram was at his best attacking the rim. He averaged 10.6 drives-per-game, courtesy of NBA.com, and averaged 5.8 points on them, good for a 54.5 point percentage. For players with at least ten drive-per-game, that places 17th. It’s better than the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Ben Simmons, Chirs Paul, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe, and similar to the likes of Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, and a revitalized Tyreke Evans. And his assist percentage on drives was identical to Giannis, LeBron, and Beal.
Why is this important? Because it was a significant part of his game and he will be playing the slasher role and attacking the rim a lot when LeBron James in on the floor. In the preseason, we have seen Ingram drive to the rim a lot and also play with LeBron quite a bit, and the duo are starting to build a rapport. And after dropping 31 points against the Sacramento Kings Thursday night, LeBron James was full of praise.
“This is the year for him, I believe in him,” said James after a 128-123 win over the Kings. “I know what his abilities are, even just being around him for these first few weeks. Every big shot we needed, every big play we needed he made down the stretch, and I love seeing his growth.”
James does not go around giving out praise like that, so it speaks volume to how much improvement Brandon Ingram has made since joining the Lakers. The third year is when NBA players usually start to pop and begin to show us just what kind of player he will be, and the Lakers are hoping that Ingram will become a Scottie Pippen-like co-star to LeBron’s Jordan.
But, even if he will play as a slasher, Ingram will no doubt get opportunities with the ball in his hand considering he continues to impress when put in at point guard. And LeBron James is going to need breathers, and Ingram is the next-best all-around playmaker on the roster. He has 20-25-point potential, and could very well crack the 20-mark this season because playing with James will only amplify the jump.
While Ingram most likely won’t make the playoffs in his third season because of a stacked Western Conference, as long as he continues to improve and eventually play like one, the Lakers could have a deep run in the spring.