Brandon Ingram will likely be one of the most exciting players to watch on the 2016-17 Los Angeles Lakers. The forward out of Duke has been compared to (and praised by) Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant, one of the best of the current NBA generation. Ingram’s potential, however, is almost as great as he is young – the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft just turned 19 on September 2nd. Given Ingram’s youth, as well as the fact that he only played one season in college and may not be done growing, it wasn’t surprising to hear speculation that the Lakers might ease him into the NBA by making him come off the bench at first.
The team only fueled that speculation when they signed Luol Deng to a 4-year, $72 million contract in free agency this summer. Deng is 31 and has a lot of wear and tear on his body, but also proved with the Miami Heat last season that he is still worthy of a starting role.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton appears to have confirmed that he’ll start Deng over Ingram to begin the season in an article released Friday by Mark Medina of the Southern California News Group.
Despite praising rookie forward Brandon Ingram for his playmaking and versatility, Walton said “we’re not going to throw him into the starting lineup right away” out of concern how he handles a grueling 82-game schedule.
This situation isn’t comparable to when Byron Scott benched D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle for much of the 2015-16 season. Not only did Scott, then the Lakers head coach, go out of his way to slam Russell’s perceived immaturity to the media when he made the decision, but the Lakers didn’t have a clear alternative to either player on the roster like they do in Ingram’s case with Deng. Furthermore, Deng was brought in primarily to mentor Ingram and help the younger forward transition to pro ball rather than just serve as a veteran stopgap and take minutes away from his fellow Dukie.
The most glaring difference, however, is Walton’s public stance on his young players and how his staff will handle them differently than their predecessors:
“You develop the young core by rewarding them when they play well,” Walton said. “If there’s 10 games left in the season and out of the playoffs and there’s some vets that played long minutes all season, maybe you play all your young guys to finish out the season. But when you’re going through the season, you’re not doing anyone any favors just by playing young guys so they can play if they’re not out there playing the right way.”
That quote was couched in specific praise for nearly every young player on the Lakers roster, which makes it unlike anything Scott said during his tenure on that Staples Center sideline. Ingram and Deng will likely switch roles at some point this season, and it sounds as though Walton will be able to tell when that change should take place.