The Los Angeles Lakers entered the offseason needing a small forward who could contribute right away while also growing with the team for years to come. They got just that with Brandon Ingram.
With the closing of one chapter as Kobe Bryant rode off into retirement after a disappointing 17-65 season, it's also the opening of a new one with an 18-year-old rookie many considered to be the top prospect in this year's draft.
After the Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick, the Lakers got to choose more than a consolation prize at No. 2. Long and lanky at 6'9" and just 190 pounds, Ingram possesses the natural instincts, willpower and three-and-D skills that comport perfectly with the kind of system new Lakers head coach Luke Walton will attempt to establish.
The Lakers appeared set on Ingram in the lead-up to the draft, having worked him out and taken him to dinner as well.
"It went great," Ingram said at the time, per Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com. "All the coaches made me feel comfortable around there, and we just had a good time watching the [NBA Finals] game and having dinner."
Walton wasn't present at that meal, even though the Lakers had signed him to a multiyear contract in late April. Instead, he was at the game the Lakers contingent was watching on TV, serving as the Golden State Warriors' lead assistant. But once the Finals were over, L.A.'s new head coach headed south. After the draft, he weighed in on the result.
"We got the player I wanted in the draft," Walton said, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. "I don't know if he's the best or not, but we got the player I wanted, for sure. What he has the potential of doing and what he can already do at his age with his length and skill set is very impressive and unique."
Ingram should be a fantastic fit with this Lakers squad. He shot 41 percent from outside the arc with Duke—the kind of shooting that’s sorely needed for a team that ranked dead last in NBA three-point efficiency last season. Ingram also averaged 6.8 boards to complement his 17.3 points per game, along with 2.0 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals with the Blue Devils.
Lakers fans got to see Ingram in action at Las Vegas Summer League. His shot didn't always find the net, as evidenced by missing all five field-goal attempts during a win against the Warriors on July 11. But in the final game against Utah, Ingram finished 9-of-13 for 22 points, including 2-of-3 from downtown.
He has a fluid, natural shooting stroke with a high release that's difficult to guard. When defenders do rush out, Ingram can sidestep and lope to the basket in a few easy strides. The rook also seems to say the right things about his teammates, as this tweet from Serena Winters of Lakers Nation demonstrates:
While free with his praise for others, Ingram wasn't basking in self-satisfaction after the Lakers wrapped up their stint in Vegas with a 3-2 record.
"It was OK," he said, per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes. "I think as a player, you're never satisfied. I think I could've shot the ball a lot better, and on the defensive end, I could've been a lot better."
However, Walton saw things in a more positive light, per Holmes:
Brandon's great. He's a very intelligent basketball player, which I love, for someone his age. You can see when he plays, he'll go to attack, and if it's not there, he doesn't have to look for other players. He knows where they're at. He'll obviously continue to learn the NBA game.
He'll learn how to play against the guys that are being physical with him and trying to bump him off spots. I think the more he does, the better he'll be at it, naturally. He can play multiple positions. He can shoot. He can drive. Very high potential for Brandon.
The Lakers also signed free agent Luol Deng this summer, a proven veteran and perennial starter whose historic position is also at small forward. However, Deng was also successful playing the 4 in Miami last season. Regardless, the depth chart doesn't make Ingram's fit any less enticing.
The biggest concern is Ingram's skinny frame, as it begs the question whether he'll be able to hold his own against physical NBA veterans. After his predraft workout with the Lakers, the one-and-done Ingram said he came into college weighing about 169 pounds and is now up to about 195, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
If accurate, that's an encouraging amount to pack on in a year's time. Ingram added that his goal is to "eat everything I can" and gain about "10 to 15 pounds" every offseason in the NBA.
An Eastern Conference scout who was not allowed to speak on record voiced concerns about the youngster's weight to Turner nonetheless.
"Ingram will be a small forward in our league, and the guys who play that position are exceptional athletes. They are strong, quick and physical," the scout said. "So when I look at his body type, I'm not sure if he can gain enough weight that he'll need to play at this level. That would be a concern for me."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke about the challenges Ingram will face against more powerful players, particularly as he begins his NBA career, per Holmes:
He's going to be challenged every game. A lot of it's because he's the No. 2 pick in the draft, and he has some bigger and stronger players and they're going to try to be physical -- and that's going to happen, because he's not going to get stronger overnight.
And that's going to be a process that may take a couple years. But it is something that he's going to work on right away. So that's something that he'll just have to get used to. To me, he doesn't back down. He competes. And that's really the biggest plus of all.
Another plus is Ingram's naturally wide shoulders. It's not hard to envision him growing into a rangy, strong body that is adaptable to multiple positions, including stretch 4.
Additionally, Deng's multiyear contract means Ingram won't be expected to deliver heavy minutes right out of the gate; He can quite literally grow into his role.
Ingram represents the kind of two-way wing L.A. has lacked for too long. His modern style also fits well with Walton—the kind of coach the Lakers have needed for so long. Realistically, the elongated second overall draft pick should have a solid rookie season, but it would not be surprising to see him surpass such conservative expectations.
This is an NBA star in the making.
Complete 2016-17 Stat Predictions
- Minutes: 25.0
- Points: 10.5
- Rebounds: 4.0
- Assists: 1.5
- Field-goal percentage: .420
- Three-point percentage: .375
- Steals: 0.5
- Blocks: 0.8