The Los Angeles Lakers have high hopes this season, as the team aims to end its five-year playoff drought.
With the addition of LeBron James, expectations for the Lakers skyrocketed into more familiar territory. Not only do fans want to see the purple and gold back in the playoffs, but some believe the team can make some noise if they get there. After all, when you have the best player in the world in your corner, you always have at least a puncher’s chance in any given series, right?
Even though the Lakers have James to rely on when the calendar turns to March, April and beyond, they will need help from the guys around him if they want to surprise some people and make a deep run in the Western Conference. Los Angeles has veterans on the team with playoff experience. Hell, they have four guys on the roster that have been on championship teams. But even if the Lakers think they have the right amount of veteran experience and leadership, their success this season hinges fairly heavily on the progression of their young players.
Brandon Ingram is arguably the most highly-regarded prospect of those young players, depending on who you ask. Still just 21, Ingram is being counted on to make some sort of leap in his third NBA season. While Ingram shouldn’t feel pressured to become an All-Star caliber player overnight, improved efficiency in a few different areas could help his game and the overall success of the Lakers this season. But the Lakers coaching staff needs to find ways to put Ingram in favorable positions and help their youngster out when they can.
Ingram has shown several flashes of improved defensive play this season, which is a pleasant sight for Los Angeles. But is he taking steps forward offensively? How exactly is he being utilized in this adjustment of playing next to James? What about when James is off the floor? Let’s take a look.
Pick and roll offense
Through 12 games so far this season (four missed due to suspension), Ingram’s traditional statistics are down virtually across the board from his 2017-18 campaign. Of course, as with anything, context is important. Ingram is playing next to several new faces, including a superstar for the first time in his career. Additionally, it’s a small sample size and his numbers are marginally down in most areas, so things could shape up very differently as the season progresses.
The slight decrease in production and efficiency thus far — aside from three-point shooting, which has fallen from 39 percent a year ago to 30.4 percent so far this season — should not be overly concerning yet. What is a bit worrisome, though, is just how Ingram is being utilized offensively.
Ingram’s least efficient play type as a scorer is the action he has been used in most often. In 48 possessions (23.5 percent) as the pick-and-roll ball handler, Ingram has scored just 31 points on 31.7 percent shooting. He has scored just 0.646 points per possession (PPP) with this play type, which puts him in the 13th percentile in the league.
A big reason for the inefficiency as a pick-and-roll scorer so far for Ingram has been his decision making. Far too often out of this play, he either settles for contested midrange jumpers or forces something in traffic. Here are a few examples:
Notice on the third clip, Ingram has a lane to his left and can force Justise Winslow to either leave a shooter in the corner (James has been red hot from three as of late) by helping or leaving the lane open by staying close to James. Ingram makes the decision easy as he pulls up and gets blocked by Whiteside. Granted, the shot clock was down to six seconds when the screen is set, but he still needs to make the defense react here.
Luckily for the Lakers, Ingram’s play as a pick-and-roll ball handler has shown signs of promise, just not often as a scorer. When Ingram sees the floor and is a willing passer coming off a ball screen, he has been far more effective.
Passing out of a screen and roll for Ingram as the ball handler has netted 1.133 PPP so far this season, good enough for a nice mark of being in the 69th percentile. I would like to see Ingram take advantage of this skill set more often, especially in the next month or so that he will see some backup point guard duties with Rajon Rondo out with a broken hand.
We have seen Ingram be a capable passer and creator for others several times in his first two seasons, but production in that area has dropped noticeably so far this season. Ingram is averaging just 2.3 assists in 31.3 minutes per game with an assist percentage of 10.1 percent, the lowest of his young career. For comparison, that number was at 17.7 percent last season.
The decision making as a pick-and-roll ball handler needs to improve for Ingram’s efficiency to go back up. I think understanding that simply making the right play instead of the play that directly results in a shot attempt could help Ingram in this area, but I would also like to see the coaching staff get him involved as a scorer in some different play types to make things a bit easier for him. At the very least, more sets that don’t telegraph a high screen and roll would be helpful, like this one:
Isolation and Post-Ups
Ingram has been very good operating in two of the more typically inefficient play types for scorers: Isolation possessions and post-ups. In 36 post-up possessions for Ingram, he has produced 1.028 PPP, which puts him in the 72nd percentile. When isolated, he has produced 1.038 PPP in 26 possessions (67th percentile).
In these play types, Ingram has done a nice job at times of realizing he gets a mismatch either through transition or on a switch. He has shown he can attack bigs off the dribble or shoot over the top if they give him too much space.
Early in the Orlando game, Ingram posted up a smaller defender in Evan Fournier, spun baseline around him and earned an easy dunk. While those play types can often have a low success rate or sustainability, attacking mismatches out of them is something Ingram has done a good job of so far.
Ingram could quickly boost his offensive production if he was consistently more active without the basketball and if the Lakers would design some plays for him to get the ball while in motion, ideally going towards the basket. The area I think the Lakers should emphasize more often for Ingram, especially when he shares the floor with James, is cutting. We saw instant flashes of it in preseason play, moving without the ball and letting LeBron or another playmaker find him. Those flashes alone had me beyond excited to see Ingram on offense this year, because it should allow him to be a really efficient scorer.
So far this season, Ingram has touched the basketball as a cutter just eight times. Those eight possessions have resulted in 13 points or 1.625 PPP, by far his most effective play type. It is not a good look for the coaching staff or Ingram himself that we have seen this action from him so rarely. In preseason play, it looked to be an obvious blueprint for success for Ingram with multiple playmakers on the roster. If the Lakers and Ingram can harness his off-ball activity that we saw in the preseason, it could take his game and the offense as a whole to new heights.
On the last clip, the end result is a fadeaway jumper over a contest, but Ingram catches the pass in motion and in rhythm. I would like to see this be a more common theme for Ingram moving forward. But he has to be willing to keep up his activity level away from the basketball. Doing so will make the game much easier for him with guys like James, Rondo and Lonzo Ball setting him up. He has to avoid possessions away from the ball like these:
Ingram is never a threat on these two possessions, as there is no movement with real purpose. To be fair to him, however, his teammates also have a bad habit of standing and watching LeBron when he has the ball in his hands.
Ingram has been around average in transition this season (0.967 PPP). He will get plenty more transition opportunities as the season goes on because of the pace the Lakers play at. His efficiency in that area will be something to keep an eye on.
As for Ingram’s shooting, he needs to be a more willing three-point shooter. The percentage is low right now at just above 30 percent, but he has to keep taking them. Here as of late, there have been a few threes he should have taken, but elected to put the ball on the floor.
When it comes to shooting threes, the corners have been friendly to Ingram so far. He has knocked down 42.9 percent of his three-point tries from the corners. It hasn’t been a high volume so far this year, but we saw him convert on 44.8 percent of his corner threes last season. Hopefully this is a trend that continues, but with more attempts.
Also, Ingram’s shooting efficiency may benefit from a lower volume of midrange jumpers, especially if they are forced up like we have seen at times this season. 21.9 percent of Ingram’s shot attempts this season are between 10 and 16 feet from the basket, which is significantly higher than his first two seasons in the league. On those shots, he makes only 40 percent of them. Not all midrange shots are bad. Sometimes they are simply the right shot to take. If they are open shots, that is completely fine. But eliminating those contested midrange jumpers will be key.
Ingram has had his share of ups and downs on the offensive side of the ball, as any young player does. The expectation shouldn’t be to have it all fixed right away. But if the Lakers can understand and try to maximize his strengths on that end while making things a bit easier for him, it could benefit multiple parties on the team.
Getting Ingram’s off-ball activity level consistently up when he shares the floor with other playmakers would help tremendously. Then when he is thrown into that backup point guard or playmaker role, being a willing passer out of pick and roll action could lead to better offensive efficiency and production.
Even with the ups and downs, there is plenty about Ingram’s game to be optimistic about. It will be up to him and the Lakers to make necessary adjustments moving forward. If the team can maximize his offensive utilization, Ingram could take another big step forward this season in his development and potentially help the Lakers make some noise heading into April.