Since entering the league, the Los Angeles Lakers have been reticent in trading away Brandon Ingram.
The willowy point forward certainly has tantalizing upside. Many have long been enamored with Ingram’s length when it comes to functioning on both ends of the floor. At only 21 years old, conventional wisdom suggests that Ingram’s rail-thin frame will eventually fill out — thus enabling him to better withstand the physical punishment of the NBA.
In a normal sense, any franchise would exercise collective patience in waiting for Ingram to fully develop. As currently constituted, the Lakers don’t have that luxury. The addition of LeBron James has expedited what many considered to be a long and arduous ‘rebuilding’ process. The roster is a funky mix of veteran players and exceptionally young ones. It’s not conventional in any stretch. Yet, Los Angeles appears to be in good shape to make the playoffs.
A 26-point drubbing of Golden State on Christmas Day further indicates that this team could be a real problem in the playoffs. Trade rumors revolving around Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal have continued — and will continue — to swirl. There’s real credence to the notion that the team may look to upgrade as soon as this year. As LeBron approaches his 34th birthday, his window as an elite (and healthy) player could soon come to a close. It makes the most sense to maximize his high-level brilliance as best as possible.
With that in mind, the Lakers have no choice but to trade Ingram in a package for a more polished player.
Ingram stylistically isn’t a great fit on this current roster. Advanced stats indicate Ingram being far better with the ball in his hands as opposed to off the ball. This won’t work with the Lakers’ current configuration (save for spurts). James and Lonzo Ball dominate the ball to the point where Ingram is often left standing on the wing. He’s not excellent as a cutter — nor is he overly mobile.
It would behoove head coach Luke Walton to stagger Ingram’s minutes, and have him potentially leading the second unit as the primary scoring option/playmaker. However, you’d then run the risk of crushing Ingram’s confidence should he be employed as a reserve.
When James is off the court, Ingram relishes the opportunity to act as the team’s primary playmaker. In these instances, he’s shooting a blistering 54.1 percent from the field. In a per 48 minute capacity, Ingram is averaging 36.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 5.8 APG with James on the bench. Once James reenters the game, these averages (21.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 44.7 percent from the field, 18.2 percent from three) drop considerably.
Kyle Kuzma has often been naturally compared to Ingram. From a fit standpoint, Kuzma’s ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter meshes more efficiently with James’ individual game. Not only that, but he moves far better without the ball in his hands. Success for Kuzma simply isn’t predicated upon having the ball in his hands. The same can’t be said for Ingram. Additionally, it might not be the most practical thing in the world going forward to have all three playing in the starting lineup next to a traditional big and a point guard. Spacing can get a bit clunky — particularly since there’s a general lack of outside shooting.
As a means to alleviate all of these issues, it would be prudent for the Lakers to deal Ingram sooner than later.
The Per 48 numbers should most certainly be highlighted in a potential deal. The Lakers can simply point to the fact that Ingram’s development may be stunted somewhat by the appearance of James. If thrust into a situation where he can be the primary guy, Ingram could explode into a very good player. There’s also something to be said about his future down the line once he further grows into his body (though it’s unlikely Ingram will ever be anything other than sinewy).
His upside as a player surpasses any other young asset (Kuzma, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Mo Wagner) on the roster. In theory, the Lakers should be able to create a trade revolving around him. He could be included in a deal for Davis — though Ingram could also easily be splintered off in a separate deal for some type of shooter/playmaker (maybe Beal or C.J. McCollum?).
All in all, it will be intriguing to see how the Lakers navigate the next two months.
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