If you look only at the cumulative stats, Brandon Ingram is not having a very good preseason. He’s shooting 41% from the field, scoring 8.1 points a night, grabbing a little over 2 rebounds, and dishing almost 2 assists a game. For most of the team’s 7 exhibition contests, he could be seen floating around the perimeter, looking more like a ball moving role player than the 2nd overall pick in his draft.
Over the past couple of games, however, Ingram is starting to find his way. On Saturday, in the 2nd half against the Warriors, coach Luke Walton put the ball in Ingram’s hands to be more of a facilitator. This unlocked his ball handling and shot creation ability (for him and his teammates). But more than that, it engaged him in the process of making the offense work.
In Wednesday night’s loss to the Warriors, Ingram again was more engaged and looking for his offense even when he was mostly playing off the ball. As the game progressed, though, Ingram was again put back in position to facilitate and again he thrived. His fourth quarter was one of efficiency and offensive aggression — he poured in 14 of his 21 points and half of his 4 assists while playing the entire period.
Getting back to his entire game, his highlights and shot chart from the evening give you a good sense of how effective he was:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 20, 2016
And, now, what his chart looked like:
It’s rare you’ll hear a Lakers’ fan say this, but man do I like seeing all that green.
I do not think it is a coincidence that Ingram is doing better when asked to be more of a focal point offensively. His best game from the Las Vegas Summer League, if you recall, came when he became the top option due to Russell and Larry Nance sitting out. Ingram, like a lot of players, seems to do better the more he is incorporated into the action and, based on his skill set, that has led to him becoming a primary ball handler.
In some ways this effectiveness as an offensive initiator shouldn’t be a surprise. In a profile on Ingram in the lead up to the draft, his high-school coach noted that Ingram played point guard “70 to 80 percent of the time” as a senior. In a pre-draft interview, Ingram himself said that he had been “working on his ball-handling a lot”, that “he felt comfortable handling the ball” while citing that he had played “point guard in high school, playing a little bit of point guard at Duke”. He capped it all by saying he “can be a versatile guy and play every position on the floor.”
I know that some of that is just a player talking about himself in a way which helps his draft stock. After all, Ingram was being pitted against Ben Simmons as a potential #1 overall pick and part of that comparison meant questions about the other players’ strengths are and where you measure up in those same areas. Simmons has what I have called “generational feel” as a passer and ball handler for a player his size, so Ingram possibly upselling himself in those same areas shouldn’t surprise.
That said, there is a difference between talking a good game and playing one. And while Ingram’s scoring hasn’t been at the level one might expect considering his pedigree out of Duke, one thing that has been consistently good is his overall offensive feel. How and where to move on the court, making quick and correct reads as a passer, and how to create shots for his teammates have been staples of his game through the summer to now even when his shot hasn’t fallen.
Of course there will continue to be growing pains in these areas — just as there has been with his scoring. Wednesday’s game against the Warriors showed off his full package when he had his game going, but it won’t be like that every night. It might not even be like that very often at all. But what Wednesday’s game did show is a player who is finding his way and a coaching staff who is starting to figure out how to put him in the best position to make those discoveries at this level.