The Step Back

Consistency is the key to Brandon Ingram thriving

Between the surprise success of Kyle Kuzma, and the early shooting struggles of Lonzo Ball, it’s easy to get distracted from the progress that Brandon Ingram is making in his second year in the league. In Wednesday’s loss to the Sixers, Ingram scored a career-high 26 points, and looked like the potential All-Star Lakers fans are hoping he’ll evolve into. After a rough rookie season, Ingram is improving in just about every statistical category. The main question going forward is whether he’ll be able to do it on a consistent basis.

Perhaps the biggest sign of Ingram’s improvement is pretty basic — he looks a lot more like a basketball player. Throughout his rookie year, Ingram looked awkward on the court. His athleticism has been obvious from the beginning, but as a rookie, he often looked lost on offense, and had a hard time channeling his natural gifts into productive plays. This season, however, his game looks more fluid. He strides to the bucket with ease, often appearing impossible to defend.

In one early moment of Wednesday’s game, he moved passed Robert Covington (one of the better defensive wings in the NBA) with ease, getting an easy basket and earning the foul. When Ingram came into the league, the most lofty outlooks compared him to Kevin Durant. He has a long way to go to reach that benchmark, and he may never get there, but when Ingram is on his game, he looks like the kind of player who can get two points whenever he feels like it.

But that’s key — when he’s on his game. For every game when Ingram looks like the league’s next big star, there are games when he vanishes from the picture entirely. As great as Wednesday’s performance was, it was coming on the heels of two unremarkable games where he failed to crack 10 points, including a terrible showing in a loss to the Bucks where he shot 2-for-10 from the field in 36 minutes of playing time, scoring just eight points, and earning a -20 for the game. When Ingram feels it, he can wow you, but there are too many times where he vanishes from the game, and never gets into his stride. This type of inconsistency is worrying, because it brings to mind frustrating players like Terrence Ross and Jeff Green, who could be brilliant or utterly irrelevant on any given night.

The overall signs are still encouraging, however. Ingram has been a better player in just about every way. His shooting percentage has increased from 40.2 to 45.4, and while he still has yet to develop become consistent on 3-pointers, his shot selection has improved drastically. Ingram gets to the rim a lot more now, with 41.2 percent of his shots coming from within three feet compared to 27.8 percent last year. Ingram has become a more assertive player this season, and its helping his offensive game tremendously. If Ingram can continue to master his short range game, he could become quite an intimidating scorer.

There are still many flaws in Ingram’s game that he will need to repair in order to become a great NBA player. His free throw shooting is still an underwhelming 64.9 percent, and in a game ruled by the 3-pointer, his inability (and unwillingness) to shoot them is going to hurt his efficiency. It’s especially weird because he was a very good 3-point shooter in college and this was supposed to be a big part of his offensive game.

That being said, the first 15 games of Ingram’s second season should give Lakers fans a lot to be happy about. His game looks smoother, and he’s become much more forceful when it comes to driving to the basket. When Ingram plays the way he did against Philly on Wednesday, we get a glimpse of the player we drooled over during his lone season at Duke. Now, the question is whether Ingram can put his considerable talents together and learn how to utilize them on a consistent basis.

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