When LeBron James made his grand entrance at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, we had our first public glimpse of James as a member of the Lakers.
LeBron at Summer League repping the new squad. 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/o5vaU1taHG
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) July 15, 2018
Moments were captured of LeBron interacting with some notable people such as his new teammate, Brandon Ingram.
Brandon Ingram greets LeBron pic.twitter.com/ssbmZWoa0O
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) July 15, 2018
Jokes flew in response to their greeting, with Ingram potentially at the center of a trade package for Kawhi Leonard at the time.
LeBron: "You gonna look good in a Spurs uniform when I trade you for Kawhi"
Brandon Ingram: "1738!" pic.twitter.com/snKOajSk4U
— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) July 15, 2018
How LeBron looking at Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and/or Lonzo if the Spurs agree to trade Kawhi pic.twitter.com/gX2wJu0uqX
— LABrontourage (@LABrontourage) July 16, 2018
Now that Kawhi is in Toronto, at least for now it’s evident that the Lakers are invested in the pairing of LeBron with Ingram in the frontcourt for the near future. Now it’s mandatory to consider the significance of what LeBron’s presence on the Lakers means for Brandon Ingram, who broke out for a highly progressive season in 2017-18.
Ingram showed more of a willingness to embrace and finish through contact, take and make big shots, and he improved his shooting percentages in every category from his rookie season.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) December 8, 2017
Love to see Brandon Ingram finish through this contact for an and-one. Need more of this.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) October 3, 2017
Ingram along with Kyle Kuzma bring versatile and assertive dynamics to the Lakers as young forwards. That’s what some feel to be a unique opportunity for LeBron with these Lakers — being part of a team that has true young individual talents. Ingram likely has the highest individual ceiling out of the bunch as far as becoming a possible transcendent talent.
Ingram’s continued evolution as a scorer and as a basketball player will determine how well he meshes with LeBron. It can be a struggle for versatile forwards to shine alongside LeBron because he consumes so much of that role, but as a developing elusive scorer, Ingram has the chance to be a boastful beneficiary of LeBron’s gravity on the floor.
Doris Burke on Brandon Ingram’s potential. 🔥👀🐐🙌 pic.twitter.com/7OZjdmDEfl
— Lake Show™ (@LakeShowFamily) July 11, 2018
Brandon Ingram was most assisted by Lonzo Ball in the 2017-18 season, followed by Julius Randle and then Brook Lopez. Even if Randle and Lopez were still members of the Lakers you could expect LeBron to jump to the top of that list.
Ingram is an optimal threat as a cutter with his length but his ability to make even sharper and more consistent plays off the ball will be tested. As he learns to read his cuts playing off of LeBron he can become a regular recipient of lobs and dump-offs for plenty of looks at the rim.
Playing alongside LeBron also comes with a need to space the floor since he constantly creates the kind of crowd that produces passing lanes for outside shots with his elite vision. Outside shooting hasn’t become a completely valid part of Ingram’s game yet. He shot just under 40 percent from three last season on barely two attempts per game. But that was up from 29 percent his rookie season.
It would be hard for Luke Walton to even try compressing Ingram into a floor spacer, but with LeBron in the mix, he’ll at least see more productive looks in that regard. Ingram only averaged two catch-and-shoot looks per game last season and was taking his shots between 15 and seven seconds left on the shot clock 44 percent of the time.
Instead of being the team’s expected go-to scorer and activator every time he touches the ball, Ingram can learn to pick his spots and let better playmakers — one of them being the best there is in the game today — make the game simpler for him. That kind of progression can turn his 16 points on 12 shots per game in 2017-18 into 20+ points per game this upcoming season.
Spacing and running the floor with LeBron, in addition to Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo pushing the ball ahead, could make for more explosive scoring situations for Brandon Ingram.
PG – Lonzo Ball
SG – Josh Hart
SF – Brandon Ingram
PF – Kyle Kuzma
C – LeBron James
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 19, 2018
“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.
Positional versatility is the treasure for today’s NBA rosters. LeBron himself is one of its greatest pioneers as the most unique and athletic positional specimen of all time, but the Golden State Warriors took it nuclear with their prescribed death lineups, utilizing either Draymond Green or now Kevin Durant as a small-ball center.
From the above quote and graphic, what the Lakers will have as a possible death lineup puts LeBron, Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma as the three interchangeable forwards. LeBron is assumed to be the center in that lineup, but I think its true potential will eventually see Ingram at the five. Obviously, the task is more physically fitting for LeBron right now, having to possibly defend opposing centers. Ingram’s body would need to fill out some more to take on that task defensively, but he should look to embrace that challenge.
At the same time, the strategy of going small is to dictate your own matchup issues. It should be a hassle for any big to have to keep up with LeBron, Kuzma, or Ingram from end to end, and the whole idea of having interchangeable forwards for a death lineup is you don’t have an actual center on the floor.
When it comes to the size and skill that’s needed to concoct a potent death lineup, the young Ingram, outside of Kevin Durant himself, could be one of the best candidates in the league right now for LeBron to collaborate with on small ball.
Because of his 6’10 frame, 7’3 wingspan and wing mobility, Ingram’s name has often been thrown into the same stream as Kevin Durant. That’s an extremely high ceiling for any basketball player to meet.
That said, if anyone is going to show Ingram the ways of what it means to reach someone like Durant’s level, it’s someone like LeBron. Not only has LeBron battled Durant multiple times now in the NBA Finals, but they used to work out together during LeBron’s years in Miami. He’s been up close and personal with Durant for most of his career, and the two of them are really the league’s titan unicorns.
And right now, LeBron is trying to beat him. Not the other way around.
Kyrie Irving didn’t seem to ever fully yearn for LeBron’s tutelage. He already knew he was a star and a winner.
In this sense, LeBron has a chance to help mold a new version of Durant with Ingram. Exposing him to that magnitude of greatness and understanding has the potential to validate and possibly elevate the height of Brandon Ingram’s ceiling.
And that should be the mentality because Ingram’s ceiling still has plenty of impact on what the ceiling will be for the Lakers over the next few years.
stats acquired via NBA.com/stats