It’s been years since Kobe Bryant played his last game as a Laker (lighting up Utah for 60 points), and it comes as no surprise to many that the Lakers haven’t been racking up wins for quite some time. The ball club’s future is looking brighter nonetheless, thanks to the inclusion of talented young players in the team’s roster over the last couple of years.
For most of the 2017-18 season, the bulk of everyone’s attention has been on Lonzo Ball, 20, the Lakers’ first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. As a college player in 2016-17, Ball led the country in assists, even shattering the UCLA record for most assists in a season. After two decades of being carried by two great scorers in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers franchise was clearly on the cusp of a cool change by drafting a potential superstar with a pass-first mentality. Ball has shown promise as far as his passing skills are concerned, equaling Lebron James’ record as the youngest player to record two triple-doubles at age 20, as reported by SB Nation.
So far, everything about Lonzo Ball has been nothing short of spectacular, at least if you take out his scoring woes from the equation. After 21 games, Ball has shot a dismal.315 from the field. Naturally, talks about him being a potential bust intensified as Ball continues to brick his shots on a consistent basis. Optimistic analysts and fans, however, chalk his shooting struggles up to inexperience, explaining that it’s a process that he has to go through to become a fully formed NBA player in a year or two.
Amid all the buzz around Ball, including the well-deserved praises being heaped on Kyle Kuzma, everyone seems to have forgotten about Brandon Ingram — at least until he exploded for a career-high 32 points on 12 for 21 shooting against the defending champions Golden State Warriors on Wednesday. The performance was made all the more impressive since he scored most of his points against Kevin Durant, the player he was often compared to because of their similar physique and long arms.
Brandon Ingram and Kevin Durant went head-to-head in an intense match that extended to overtime. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Steph Curry took over the game in overtime, giving the Warriors a 127-123 win at Staples Center.
Ingram, the Lakers’ top pick in the 2016 NBA draft (second overall), has been showing signs of real progress in the current season, upping his 9.4 points per game scoring average from last year to 15.7. Things started slowly for Ingram during his first year, but he showed flashes of brilliance as the season wound down, which had been more than enough to land him on the All-Rookie Second Team.
Despite the loss, the effort displayed by the relatively young Laker team shows proof that the franchise’s future is on the rise. Even more noticeable is the fact that most of the attention has switched from Lonzo Ball to Brandon Ingram.
“Just confidence. Luke put the ball in his hands and let him make plays,” Durant said of Ingram after the game.
“All night he made plays, finished over the top, made the [jumpers], made good decisions. As a player playing against him, I hate to see it.
“But if I was watching on TV, I’d be really excited for him. You can see he’s learning and getting better. He’s growing as a player, and his teammates and coaches believe in him.”
With Kobe Bryant gone, the Lakers have been in desperate need of a “closer,” someone who has the knack for taking over the game when it matters most.
After 21 games, Brandon Ingram has been showing signs that he’s the Lakers’ first great closer in the post-Kobe era. In a game against the Wizards last October, the second-year player from North Carolina showed that he’s more than capable of rising to the challenge by exploding for 11 points on 5 of 8 shooting in the fourth quarter to force overtime. The Lakers went on to take a 102-99 overtime victory from the Wizards.
“He definitely has the ability and confidence to make those kind of plays,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of Ingram, LakeShow Life reports. “He definitely wants it. One hundred percent he wants it. Some people, they say they want it. But in their eyes you can tell they’re just saying it because they’re supposed to say it.”
“Brandon, he truly wants those types of moments.”