At just 19-years-old, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram is already gaining valuable experience in crunch time, when games are on the line. Ingram finished games on the Lakers most recent three-game road trip and returned to Staples Center on Tuesday night as part of the closing five on the court to end the game against the Brooklyn Nets, not only hitting key shots but forcing big turnovers.
Head coach Luke Walton has voiced since his first day on the job, that a large part of this season is devoted to the development of the Lakers young core, but Ingram isn’t just being handed these experiences for his development, Walton’s making it clear that he’s earning it.
“He’s a winner, he really is, and we saw that early on in training camp and summer league…His team, he finds ways to win in drills,” Walton said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s almost getting to the point where he’s a lockdown defender with that length…He’s constantly proving and earned the trust to be out there at the end of games.”
Being referred to as a “lockdown defender,” is a huge accolade, especially for a rookie, and also isn’t something Ingram expected.
“I think coming into this league, I would never have thought of something like that (being a lockdown defender),” Ingram responded when asked about Walton’s comments. “I guess that’s just something I didn’t focus on coming through high school and college and I see that as very important with the smart guys that’s coming through this league and how the guys play basketball here. I think it’s important to be a two-way player.”
Ingram also said that he remembers Walton making a comment about his potential to be a great defensive player during one of his pre-draft workouts. Since then, Ingram made a point to step up his defensive game.
“He’s got a good feel for where cutters are coming from and how to use his length,” Walton explained. “And, if he puts his mind to it, in practice and in the games, down toward the end of games when it gets tight, and he really locks in on defense, he’s tough to score on.”
Walton clarified that Ingram doesn’t have all the angles down quite yet, but he’s definitely getting better at it. Most importantly, Walton thinks that once he gets to a point where he fully understands and commit to those angles, players are going to have a tough time scoring on him, and that’s a huge compliment, especially for such a young player.
“To play defense any way at this level, at his age, is near impossible,” Walton said. “These are grown men you’re playing against. It normally physically just beats you down, but he’s been pretty good with it.”
Walton compared Ingram’s defense to a former player he coached as an assistant and interim head coach for the Golden State Warriors, Andre Iguodala.
“Andre was the same way up at Golden State, he would gap his man and use that length to contest shots and make them take hard shots. You learn to live with guys that make a couple of those, but overall you feel like you give your team a better chance if those are the types of buckets they’re scoring.”
It’s that confidence Walton has in Ingram that drives him to keep pushing himself defensively.
“Him seeing something in me, means a lot,” Ingram smiled.