When the Los Angeles Lakers selected Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, expectations for the young Duke prospect shot through the roof. After all, the once-mighty Lakers need superstars if they are going to return to their rightful place atop the NBA, and given their lack of draft picks due to the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades, every selection they do get has to count.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young man who just recently turned 19, and his early play in Summer League didn’t scream “franchise savior.” He played well enough and showed flashes of brilliance from time to time, but Ingram lacked a signature performance for fans to point to, a high note that proved he had the upside to develop into something special. Then Wednesday night’s game against the Warriors happened, and Ingram exploded for 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Lakers coach Luke Walton wasn’t shy about telling Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times about what the game meant for his young protege:
“I don’t think it’s too early to say he turned a corner. I think that was a great experience for him. I think the type of player he is, he was in this morning again before practice started, getting work in. He’s had a good night. Still decided to get up early, come get his reps, which I think speaks to the player he wants to be.”
While Ingram still has a long way to go, his game against Golden State was certainly a step in the right direction, and Walton mentioning that he was in early the next day is a fantastic indicator of his work ethic and desire to succeed.
Walton deserves credit for his handling of Ingram, as he recognized early on that Ingram plays more freely when he is handling the ball, and so he has shifted him over to point guard for a few plays each game. Ingram isn’t likely to play point guard often, but it seems to be a solid tool to jump-start his growth.
It isn’t clear exactly what Ingram will become in the NBA, but the Lakers appear to be determined to put him in the best possible situation to succeed. The rest is up to him.