Brandon Ingram has struggled mightily in the preseason and has not shown much improvement from last year. What exactly is going on?
"Untouchable", "the next Kevin Durant", "go-to scorer", and "2-man draft" have pumped up Brandon Ingram's hype since he got into the league. Despite a rookie year where Ingram struggled mightily, for the most part, lots of fans predicted he would break out this year due to his incredible length, height, and hype from those phrases. Many believe he can be like Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo, both of whom had average rookie seasons and then made leap after leap. Now with only one preseason game left, according to Real GM, Ingram is only averaging 9.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game on shooting an awful 31.7% from the field and 11.1% from 3. So, what is the issue with Brandon Ingram?
First of all, Head Coach Luke Walton is using him wrong. Ingram, at least not yet, is not an isolation scorer. He lacks the quickness to go by his man, and his jumper mechanics are still rocky. His release is getting smoother, but sometimes he still has that slight pause in his motion that has hurt him so far. The Spurs and Bucks did not hand the keys to the offense to their star forwards until they became well-rounded players. The Lakers are doing this backward by giving Ingram the keys and expecting him to shine. They should not rush his development and use him in other ways to help the team.
However, the Lakers changed up how they used Ingram against the Jazz where the young man had his best game of the preseason. He still played too much isolation for my liking, but he moved the ball well and did not over-dribble. He moved well without the ball that led to some easy layups. One of my player comparisons to Ingram, when he was coming out of Duke, was Nicolas Batum because he can move the ball and make plays for others while getting some extra rebounds and hitting open shots. Obviously, he is quite not there yet, but if they can use Ingram as a Swiss army knife doing a little bit of everything, he should develop better.
Ingram, however, is not blameless. Offensively, he is over-dribbling to overcompensate for his lack of quickness. If something isn't there, he needs to move the ball, screen away and/or move without the ball to get the ball back in better position to make a play. This is not a huge concern because young players need to be aggressive to get confident and continue to try new things. But, what Ingram is doing is not working so he needs to try new approaches. Young players should experiment to see what works.
Defensively is where Ingram needs to improve immensely. Sort of like Andrew Wiggins, Ingram came into the league as stud defensive prospect due to his long arms and height. However, as a Duke fan who watched lots of Ingram in college, I noticed he does not bend his knees and hips well at all on defense. Unless the ball-handler comes to him, he will unleash the giant wingspan and use it to his advantage and got away with it. Now at the professional level, his upright posture has hurt his lack of quickness even more which allows guys to go by him, but more importantly, beat him off the ball. It also hurts him immensely at evading screens which allows his man to get open. Against the Jazz, Rudy Gobert set some mammoth picks on Ingram in pick n' rolls which gave lots of space to Ingram's man to create a play.
One way to eradicate Ingram's poor defensive stance is to get more flexible. Increasing flexibility in the hips and legs will make it more comfortable to move around in an athletic stance. Leg and balance exercises will also improve his posture. Ingram is not a fluid athlete, but these various exercises should help. This will also allow him to be more comfortable keeping his hands up thus using his length.
My take is the Lakers should not be too concerned with Brandon Ingram's struggles. While I doubt he will be a perennial all-star, he can still be a very good starter and contributor on a contending team. He can be a jack of all trades a la Lamar Odom and Nicolas Batum. That should be seen as a successful career for Ingram. Yes, he was the second pick, but it was a bad draft. Not all 2nd overall picks are created equal. The young man is still only 20 years old and has a lot of growth left. Let's be patient.