New York City tourists and young basketball fans lined the aisles of the NBA store in Midtown Manhattan, hoping to catch a glimpse of the latest professional player to visit the popular location.
Brandon Ingram sat behind a table and politely signed autographs for a Fanatics event before sauntering through the crowd and stepping into a backroom, where he etched his signature on even more memorabilia. Somewhere across town, his teammate Lonzo Ball held a massive Big Baller Brand pop-up shop with his family on the same weekend. Complete with a police presence to quiet the endless line of rowdy fans, the event couldn’t have contrasted more with the quiet Ingram dutifully conducting his business.
This is the new existence of Brandon Ingram. With the Ball family taking center stage in Los Angeles, the No. 2 pick has taken a backseat attention-wise as he tries to develop into the player the Lakers need.
“I think they definitely took some of the spotlight off of me,” Ingram said. “But whether I have it—which I know it will come back again—or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s important for me to stay within my team, stay within the organization and the coaches and just worry about us, worry about how we can get better and what we have going on.”
That process has already started in the first half of Ingram’s second NBA season. Free of the intense scrutiny of the limelight, a singular focus and heightened sense of self has led to better numbers across the board, with upticks in points (16.1), rebounds (5.4), assists (3.3) and shooting percentage (44.4%).
A 6’9” slasher with do-it-all ability on offense, Ingram has always had a deep arsenal, the trick has been deploying those skills consistently. And on many nights during his rookie season, sheer talent masked what Ingram lacked in strength and aggression. But changes in stature and approach are clearer today for Ingram, who is averaging twice as many free throw attempts per game this year.
Look at Ingram’s highlights and the changes jump out at you. There he is knocking down the go-ahead jumper to sink the 76ers, rebounding his own miss to force overtime in a win against the Wizards and dishing to Kyle Kuzma in a victory over the Rockets.
The wins don’t quite come in quick succession for the Lakers, who now sit at 11–25, but Ingram’s fingerprints are often found all over the good nights for Los Angeles. He’s trusted to play 35.2 minutes per game and stay on the court at the end of games in ways that he wasn’t when D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams and Nick Young were on the roster.
The Lakers now depend on Ingram, and he wears that newfound responsibility like a badge of honor. It’s equated to more confidence and made it easier for Ingram to perform in those big moments.
“I think experience ties into it, but even more so confidence,” Ingram said. “I’m seeing the game a lot differently, seeing what I can do and the game is coming a lot easier for me. I think it’ll be even easier as my shot catches up with me. But now I’m feeling good about what I’ve done successfully.”
Ingram is right. Listed at 190 pounds, he will need an outside shot to open up his game as his body fills out. And the key to shooting well at an elite level is confidence. At the moment, only 11.9% of Ingram’s shots come from beyond the three-point mark. That’ll have to change for him to truly turn the corner.
It was telling that Ingram’s teammates were so excited for him in the aftermath of that big shot in Philly. The shot itself (an open three on the wing) was somewhat unremarkable, but the semblance there was big for the Lakers. Head coach Luke Walton said Ingram showed a lot of guts and Jordan Clarkson said the second-year player was growing up in front of our eyes. The Lakers all know that Ingram is a key building block to their future.
“The guys have been influential in what I’m doing,” Ingram said. “They see me do it so much in practice and they’ve just been waiting to see that spark in the game, so I think I just feel better and better every time I step on the basketball court.”
Of course, a large part of Ingram’s success is connected to his two young teammates, Ball and Kuzma. Together, they provide shelter that makes it easier for Ingram to operate. Kuzma’s shot opens the floor and Ball’s otherworldly passing ability leads to easy baskets.
“You now expect the basketball, you know what spots you’re going to get it in,” Ingram said of life with Lonzo. “Makes you want to run even harder. It’s easier to find that success on the offensive end when you know he’s going to get you the basketball.”
And placing the ball in Ingram’s hands could be the key to a sustainable and drama–free future in L.A.