As the Los Angeles Lakers trudge through the middle of the season, Brandon Ingram has an opportunity to continue growing as a playmaker.
Two of the Los Angeles Lakers’ primary facilitators – LeBron James and Lonzo Ball – are out with different injuries. James has been out since injuring his groin on Christmas against the Golden State Warriors. James is rehabbing his injury, and his status on returning is still unclear.
Ball suffered an ankle injury on Saturday during the Lakers’ 138-134 loss to the Houston Rockets; he will be out 4-6 weeks. Rajon Rondo (finger) is expected to return Thursday when the Lakers will play the Minnesota Timberwolves.
These injuries are of course unfortunate for both players as well as the Lakers. But with the Lakers lacking some of their best playmakers, Ingram has a chance to show he can provide value for the team.
Ingram has struggled to be consistent this season because he hasn’t been a consistent scoring threat. He’s averaging 16.4 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting, but he has a true shooting percentage of 52 percent. That number isn’t as high as it could be because he’s shooting 63.7 percent from the free throw line and 30.8 percent from the 3-point line.
Despite Ingram’s struggles to score consistently, he can still affect the game in different ways. He’s a good defender, and he’s able to use his 7-foot-3 wingspan to cover players well.
Ingram has also shown recently that he can thrive as a passer as well. He tallied a career-high 11 assists in the Lakers’ 138-128 overtime win last Thursday over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Ingram did a great job of drawing defenders here, but he also did well in looking off Ball before he made the pass. This pass is a bit flashy, but it’s also effective in that he throws the ball right where Ball can catch it and elevate for the dunk.
Though Ingram has the ability to score, he hasn’t necessarily shown the potential to be an elite scorer in this league; that’s not a bad thing, though.
James has been out for 14 games, the longest stretch of his career, but he’ll be coming back eventually. And when he does return, Ingram will need to show how he can provide value alongside James, as well as Ball and Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ other two core young players.
What the Lakers may be best served in doing with Ingram is using him similarly to how Lamar Odom was used during his time with Los Angeles. Odom was one of the Lakers’ best playmakers during their title runs in 2009 and 2010.
He wasn’t the team’s primary ball handler, but he could make plays in transition; he could also set up teammates in the half court. Much like Ingram, Odom was also a solid defender and could knock down open jump shots. At 21 years old, Ingram is still young — but being a player like Odom is something he could evolve into.
As shown in the video below, Ingram comes in from the weak side on the baseline for a dunk during the Lakers’ overtime win against the Thunder. Ivica Zubac did a good job of commanding attention in the paint and kicking the ball to Ingram. That type of bucket is something that’s going to be there for Ingram, especially when James returns.
James draws so much attention because of his ability to score in the lane. But James is also one of the best passers the league has ever seen, and his court vision allows him to find open players.
The growth Ingram has shown recently as a budding playmaker should be promising for the Lakers. In the past four games, Ingram has had an average assist percentage of 22.1 percent. After the Lakers defeated the Chicago Bulls 107-100 on Jan. 15, Ingram said he believes he’s improved as a playmaker, per SB Nation’s Silver Screen and Roll.
“With me getting in the lane and defenses collapsing, I see a lot of guys open that I didn’t see earlier in the season,” Ingram said. “It helps my game out a lot, and it helps their game out a lot.”
With Rondo back from injury, Ingram won’t have to facilitate as much, but his potential for growth as a playmaker will be present for the rest of the season.
If he can be a utility player for the Lakers during the second half of the season, someone who can score when necessary, defend and set up teammates, then the Lakers could be in a good position around playoff time.