“With the 2nd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select Brandon Ingram, Forward, Duke University.”
While there are always smokescreens and attempts at misdirection in the lead up to the draft, the odds this is what we hear Commissioner Adam Silver say at the NBA Draft on June 23rd are high. The 76ers could always select Ingram themselves, but with Ben Simmons long considered the top prospect and Philly finally cashing in on their multi-year process with the top selection, it seems the LSU Forward would be hard to pass up.
The Lakers, then, are likely going to end up with Ingram. And I could not be happier about it.
Ingram, for the Lakers, represents a best of both worlds prospect. Not only is he supremely talented with a high upside and enough youth to make good on long-term projections of his ceiling, he also plays a position of need while offering a skill-set which is not only in-demand league wide, but on the Lakers’ as well.
There are things Ingram is not (at least not yet), but let’s focus first on what he already is. At 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and a 9’1.5″ standing reach, Ingram has physical tools unlike many players in the draft. The fact these tools come in a player who projects to be a small forward and offers perimeter skills of a pure wing only impress further. You then combine the guard skills with the shooting ability he flashed during his lone season in Durham and the picture starts to come together as to why Ingram is so highly touted.
He shot 41% on over 5 attempts from distance a game, but was ridiculous from the left side of the floor where he simply roasted teams. His work as a spot up shooter was excellent, but he also showed he could work in isolation, using a good handle and a variety of jabs and feints out of the triple threat to create the space he needed to get his shot off.
When he put the ball on the floor, he used a good handle, advanced footwork (including a nice spin move), a nice sense on how to use his frame, and a high release point to get this shot off from mid-range or in the paint. He even showed a nice understanding of how to operate as a ball handler in the pick and roll, getting himself into good positions to get his shot off or making the correct reads to hit his teammates.
Defensively, he wasn’t a stopper, but he again showed how his physical tools could impact the game. While he wasn’t a high blocks + steals player, his length meant he could challenge and alter shots when he was in the vicinity of his man. Similarly he could affect passing angles and be a disruption even if he wasn’t generating boxscore stats in the process. Even though wasn’t the most assertive defender, but he showed smarts and effort while using the tools he had available to be a net positive on that side of the ball.
Of course, there’s still room to grow both physically and with his skill set. Even with excellent size and length, Ingram lacks weight and ballast. He will compete against bigger and stronger players, but he simply doesn’t have the physical strength to anchor against players who have the ability to out-muscle him. He’s also not the best player at getting low and sliding vs. quickness, instead trying to leverage his length by playing off his man.
He’s also not a very explosive athlete. While he can show some burst and can be a “quick off the floor” at times, he’s not the type of quick-twitch athletic specimen who can simply impose himself on opponents. He’s not an overly impressive leaper, doesn’t have great speed, and, due to his lack of weight and strength, can’t just bull opponents. He offers a smoothness and fluidity that isn’t often seen in players his size — which is impressive in its own way — but that should not be mistaken for being a “special” athlete at this stage of his development. And there are real questions if he will ever really develop in that way.
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because we were saying similar things about D’Angelo Russell last season heading into the draft. And some of those concerns bore out exactly as some thought they would in his rookie campaign.
With Ingram, I can easily see stronger, NBA level athletes pushing him off his spots offensively and, like boxers with a reach disadvantage, getting into his body defensively to neutralize some of his physical advantages. Ingram will need to work hard and learn quickly how to keep opponents at bay and play at the right speed and distance in order to maximize his effectiveness.
Like Russell, though, Ingram has shown to be somewhat of a late bloomer at every stage of his development. He really did not burst onto the scene as a high-schooler until his senior season and showed more of his heralded potential in the second half of Duke’s season. The good news is, as a player whose entire rookie season will be his age 19 year, he has a lot of time to learn and grow. How quickly he’s able to do that remains to be seen, but the combination of his age and what he’s already shown is why some project him to be the best player in this class.
There are no perfect prospects in this draft, Ingram included. We should get this out of the way now, not just to properly set expectations, but to better understand what the Lakers (and every other team) already do: the players have flaws, they are young, and while their ceilings are enormously high there is no guarantee they get there.
Brandon Ingram doesn’t need to be perfect, though. The Lakers, at this stage of their rebuilding, don’t need him to be. What they do need, though, is another high ceiling player who can grow with their already established core of Russell, Randle, Clarkson, and Nance. By also being able to play a desired style at a position of need, Ingram really would give the Lakers the best of both worlds.