Brandon Ingram is a 6’9″ long and lean all-court basketball playing dude. He combines guard skills with the height and length of a big man. Watch any highlight reel of him playing the game — be it in high school or in his lone year at Duke — and there’s a smooth, almost regal way to how he plays the game. After the selection was made, Mitch Kupchak said Ingram “has no ceiling” as a player.
This sort of high praise paired with what we see on the court, plus the stories of his work ethic and character, inspire a level of excitement that is not often felt. Allowing for a brief tangent, I love D’Angelo Russell and think he has the ability to be a truly fantastic player. During Thursday’s draft coverage when analyst after analyst tried to find ways to trade or discard Russell as if he wasn’t good…I found it comical. Ingram, and the total package he possesses, might excite me even more than Russell. Which is saying something.
A balance must be struck, though.
For all I envision Ingram will become, he is not that player yet. The weaknesses he possesses now are ones which will be taken advantage of at the NBA level. His frame lacks the needed weight and ballast to anchor both offensively and defensively. His strength deficiency will show up in countless ways on the court — on the backboards, when holding off defenders to make contested catches, when making cuts and trying to stay on path when defenders bump him…I could go on and on.
His long strides will aid him in the open court and when beating closeouts off the dribble, but may be a detriment when chasing defensively, especially shooting small forwards who run off multiple picks. There will need to be improvement to get his handle tighter and lower, in his offensive and defensive footwork, in his defensive fundamentals and awareness.
I bring this up not to harp on the kid, but to say this is not only okay, it is expected. He is only 18 years old and maturing is not just assumed, it is assured. In saying that, however, Ingram’s ability to be special should not be equated with already being special now.
Yes, there are areas where his game is already evolved. Watch him work from the triple threat, see how he uses jab steps at different angles to shift a defender’s stance, watch him attack a defender’s front foot and then counter with spins and dipped shoulders to create space. Defensively, he has already shown how to retreat when guys attack his body in order to maximize his length and challenge shots.
Watch him in tight games and he will seek out the moment to be a difference maker. He plays hard throughout the game, regardless of time and score. It is clear he loves the competition and, from what I have read and heard, he wants to put the work in to improve. Listening to him talk, he seems to have the type of chip on his shoulder which drives competitiveness. There is so much to like. There is a reason he went #2 overall.
But time is needed. Not just for him, but for all of us who want to fast-track the path back to contention. The Lakers have picked 7th, 2nd, and 2nd in the last three drafts. Their time is coming. We just should not expect for that time to be now. I understand there is always free agency, but this really is not about that.
The Lakers just picked Brandon Ingram #2 overall. His game speaks for itself, but will need to grow in order to speak as loud as it can in the jump up in class to the NBA. We would all be best served not equating excitement to expectations. The path is set, now it is time to follow it.