Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram Needs More Pick-and-Roll Polish

Brandon Ingram
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

As Los Angeles Lakers swingman Brandon Ingram is about to find out, there is only one thing that puts a second overall pick under more pressure than playing under the blinding lights of Hollywood. No, it’s not trying to impress your point guard’s father, it’s playing the supporting character in the latest chapter of LeBron James’ historical story.

At the tender age of 20-years-old, he has been tasked with this scrutiny-inducing duty. The 6-foot-9 forward had a promising opening to his career, finishing on the All-Rookie Second Team in his rookie campaign and averaging 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in his breakout-of-sorts sophomore season.

The mouth-watering potential to be one of the league’s best wings is clear as day. However, in order to grab hold of that elusive superstar label, Ingram will have to patch up a huge crack in his game: How he deals with coming off screens as the ball handler in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop scenarios.

His ability to handle, create and score in the pick-and-roll (PNR) grew from terrible to bad during year two. Although Ingram still needs major improvements in coping with the most frequented play hoops has to offer, especially with LeBron James reportedly looking to play more off-ball in his twilight years.

A tick under 30 percent of Ingram’s offensive output that we saw in 2017-18 came as the ball handler in the PNR. That’s a number that compares to the likes of Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler. The problem is that he was unable to get even close to unleashing the same production as those All-Stars, Ingram posted just 0.79 points per possession (PPP), which ranks 38th out of the 44 players who handled the ball in 300 or more PNR plays.

The biggest reason for the former Duke star struggling to score efficiently is his unwillingness to attack the rim and put his length and athleticism to proper use. A strong wind could blow Ingram straight out of the state of California – so it’s obvious why avoiding contact comes naturally – but this is a big boy’s game, and a star needs to be able to get to through contact effectively.

The unwillingness to put his head down and bury his way to the rim, combined with his lack of a go-to hesitation or dribble move, incites the worrying trend of pulling up for mid-range jumpers far too often. While his 41.2 percent mark on non-paint 2-pointers was an upgrade over the 37.2 percent he shot in his debut year, it’s not enough to justify the amount (3.7 per game) he is hoisting.

In order to maximize his oozing potential, Brandon Ingram will need to spend just as much time working on the mentality of attacking the rim as he does pumping iron, in order to withstand the punishment he needs to absorb. With LeBron James – possibly the most impressive physical specimen to walk the planet – in town, Ingram should have no problem developing elite work habits.

When he is on the hardwood this off-season, the gangly wing should be putting a bunch of work into his ability to keep the ball on a string. His tendency to lose the ball off a loose dribble after darting around a solid screen will continue to hinder his pick-and-roll capabilities, even if he does improve his aforementioned shot selection.

The unreliable ball handling ability isn’t the only reason Brandon Ingram holds the 14th highest turnover percentage (16.4%) among the 44 high-possession players we discussed earlier, he throws the ball away far too often, too.

When the best wings the league have to offer come off a screen, they seem certain of whatever move they’re making. Although players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Ingram’s new teammate LeBron James carry the heaviest scoring burden on their respective squads, they also know when and how to make that pinpoint dime. Brandon Ingram, on the other hand, looks tentative and unsure about where the right pass is and if he should make it.

He often lobs passes without much thought or power, floating an errant live ball turnover into the hands of a hungry prey. These mistakes are momentum-killers and head-droppers, something a young core like the Lakers couldn’t afford last season.

With perhaps the greatest player to step foot on an NBA court now mentoring him, a point guard in Lonzo Ball who has shown elite plate-setting abilities already and a defined sidekick role, a lot of the discussed problems can be temporarily patched up.

But Bron is 33-years-old, he may look timeless now, but Father Time is still yet to be beaten. If the budding young Lakers star wants to make the most of his God-given potential, he will need to sharpen up every area of his pick-and-roll game.