The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram with the second overall picks in the two most recent NBA Drafts in the hopes that the duo can pair together alongside a notable free agent or two, and eventually lead the team back to prominence.
That hasn’t happened just yet. While the Lakers showed signs of promise through the first several weeks of the season, a brutal stretch in December and into January at one point left them with the worst record Western Conference.
Contributing to a nine-game losing skid (even if it isn’t the whole cause of it) was the absence of Ball as he nursed a sprained shoulder. Including Monday, when he sat with a sprained knee, the Lakers are 0-7 this season without Ball.
While Ingram didn’t explicitly discuss why Ball’s absence has made things harder on the team when speaking to Deantae Prince of Sports Illustrated, he did touch on why the Lakers like having him in the lineup so much and how he’s helping them.
“You now expect the basketball, you know what spots you’re going to get it in,” Ingram said of life with Lonzo. “Makes you want to run even harder. It’s easier to find that success on the offensive end when you know he’s going to get you the basketball.”
For all of Ball’s faults as a rookie, from his much-discussed shooting struggles to his passivity, his distribution has been contagious for the Lakers and it makes it harder on them when he’s out.
The Lakers have improved as a passing team this year (ranking 12th in the league in percentage of assisted field goals with 57.9 percent), but their assists and ball movement have noticeably suffered when Ball has not played.
It’s not accurate to totally chalk up all of the Lakers’ struggles over the last few weeks to Ball resting with an injury. But it’s also not fair to ignore that his unselfishness being out of the picture does leave a void that no other player on the Lakers’ mostly score-first roster can fill.
Though, Ingram has grown into such a role. And he may need to fill it Wednesday, when Ingram is likely to return from a sprained ankle but Ball is expected to remain out.
Beyond that, the Lakers are banking on the type of game that Ingram describes from Ball working as a lure for free agents to pair alongside the two eventually. But even if it doesn’t, it’s clear that Ball’s unselfishness will at the very least help the Lakers’ stable of young players continue to grow and try to hit their full potential.
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