Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in the draft, somehow has the privilege of being able to work through his rookie struggles quietly without the pressure of the “Right Now” conundrum. Coming into this season, many were comparing his game to that of Kevin Durant. His wiry frame, and scoring prowess led the comparisons. The two seasons couldn’t be any more different. Durant usage rate was much greater than that of Ingram. Additionally, the then Seattle SuperSonics drafted Durant to function as the franchise cornerstone.
While unfair, the assumptions of what is game would be at 19 felt just in attribution. Why wouldn’t the player who averaged 17 points and shot 41% from three in his lone year at Duke be expected to have a Rookie of the Year campaign in the NBA? There was no reticence when discussing where Ingram would be taken in the draft – 2nd overall. It was what very intelligent individuals call a “no-brainer”. Ingram showed all of the potential to become not only a great scorer, but a star.
The Los Angeles Lakers, after the departure of Kobe Bryant, were in prime position to capitalize on the budding promise of their youth movement. Hiring Luke Walton from the Golden State Warriors spearheaded that initiative. Bringing his repertoire, the front office made a heady move by hiring the former Laker. Walton wanted to play with pace and have the floor spread, something that an isolation scorer such as Ingram would thrive in.
Walton however, had different plans for the Duke product. By bringing him on slowly, namely off the bench, Walton has decreased the pressure of “Right Now”. Through the first 20 games of the season, Ingram started only three games – all three of which D’Angelo Russell sat out due to injury.
But even without being a part of the starting lineup, Walton made sure he integrated Ingram into the game-plan. In the month of November, Ingram averaged 27 minutes, second most on the team. Ingram did not produce on the court initially. In that same month he shot 34% from the floor per game, 30% from three, and only attempted a bit over two free throws a game ( a slight indicator of his level of aggressiveness on the court – or lack thereof).
Steadily though, the staff has increased his minutes. In turn so has is production, if only slightly. 30 minutes a game so far in January has pushed his overall minute average to 28 a game – most by any rookie in the league. 40% from behind the arc on three point attempts a game as his true shooting percentage has jumped from 45% in November to 53% in January. His free throw attempts have also increased – four attempts a game. Getting to the line at a slightly greater pace has dropped his percentage. Which is probably nothing to worry about with a shooter of his potential.
Bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing him to find his place on the team has helped him tremendously. Not receiving the attention many thought he would, Ingram has progressively improved under the lights of Tinsel Town.
Eventually, he will break out and come onto the scene as the scorer and All-Star his college game foreshadowed. Until then, just watch him work.