When you watch the Lakers play Summer League basketball, two things become abundantly clear; D’angelo Russell is ready to be a star, and Brandon Ingram is a rare talent. These two players are still very young and inexperienced. D’angelo Russell is 20 years old and had his minutes and leadership role hamstrung last year by a Lakers coaching staff hell bent on giving Kobe his farewell tour. Fortunately for Russell, the Lakers purposeful tanking by proxy of letting Bryant shoot whenever he desired landed them Brandon Ingram. Ingram is only 19 years old, but he does get a bump on the experience side of the equation from playing for Coach K at Duke.
Ingram’s athleticism and length is going to make him an immediate force to be reckoned with
We all knew Ingram could shoot the basketball, but he’s already shown enormous development in the other aspects of his game. His length allows him to block tough shots and legitimately protect the rim in a way few Small Forward’s are able to do. This grants the Laker the option to play Ingram at the 4 or even the 5 in small ball lineups in the same manner that the Cavaliers and Thunder have used LeBron James and Kevin Durant respectively.
Ingram also has another important strength that can’t be taught; he can pass the basketball. He’s not as gifted a passer as number one overall pick Ben Simmons, but he knows how to find guys. As a slashing Small Forward who will draw a lot of attention from defenders as he attacks the basket, Ingram’s passing ability is going to open up the floor for shooters like Russell.
Ingram average nearly 7 rebounds a game in Duke, and his Summer League play shows little evidence that he’s going to struggle to rebound as effectively in the NBA. At 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan and 9’1” standing reach, Ingram has length resembling that of Bucks Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. He also has a vertical leap of around 36 inches. Combine Ingram’s freakish length and athletic ability with his willingness to box out and attack the glass and it’s easy to see Ingram averaging 7 to 8 rebounds a game from day one.
Ingram comes into the league as a complete player offensively. He’s got a dangerous step back, can cross guys over and navigate in the lane, and has shown the ability to knock down tough threes with a hand in his face. Defensively he’s not totally there yet, but he’s got all the tools necessary to develop, and his athleticism and ability to contest shots with his 9 foot reach will allow him to succeed until he progresses in his lateral quickness and physicality defending the perimeter.
Ingram’s biggest strength is that his weaknesses are easily fixable. He doesn’t need to develop a jump shot, learn how to pass, or lose his ego. In fact, gaining weight is Ingram’s biggest problem. At 6’9” he weighs just 190 pounds. Contrast this to skinny Kevin Durant who weighs in at 240, and its clear Ingram need to eat some bacon cheeseburgers with a side of large fries. If Ingram wants to be able to defend, let alone score against, guys like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Andrew Wiggins, Rudy Gay, and Chandler Parsons, he’s going to have to beef up considerably.
If Ingram can gain weight and work hard on his lateral quickness defensively, the sky is the limit on his potential as a player. He’s already a consistent mid-range and three point shooter, he can finish way above the rim against tall defenders, and can both pass and rebound. It’s unlikely he’ll ever score as much as Kevin Durant, one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, but he’s got all the intangibles and skill to develop into an elite NBA player.
D’Angelo Russell has developed a lot despite Kobe Bryant
Russell’s playing style, shooting ability, and raw talent makes him a hybrid at the Point Guard position. In many ways, his style of play is reminiscent of the “old” past first, knockdown shooting point guard that has been pushed out by the ball dominant score first style. Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Stephen Curry illustrate this transition. Today, elite point guards are expected to dominate in isolation situations where they knock down tough pull-ups and attack the hoop 12-15 times a game. They’re passing comes from their scoring rather than they other way around.
Russell doesn’t really fit that model. He gets rid of the ball early in the shot clock and moves effectively without the ball to find open shots or UCLA cuts to the basket. Russell is almost never the only person to touch the basketball in a possession, something you can’t say about the guards listed above. He fits well in an offense that is constantly moving and runs early pick and rolls, which Coach Walton has indicated is his plan with the new Lakers offense.
Despite his pass first nature, Russell can also score the basketball as well as any young player. He hit 130 threes on 35 percent from the three point line last season, which will surely improve as he grows comfortable in the league and gets more open opportunities as Luke Walton opens up the offense. He plays well off the pick and roll, and is explosive getting to the rim. His mid-range game continues to improve and his ball skills allow him to create open shots.
D’Angelo Russell’s development is evident in early Summer League play. In many ways, he looks like a man among boys, effortlessly scoring the basketball and finding his teammates with his elite vision as a passer. Furthermore, although he didn’t get the minutes or leadership opportunities many had hoped for in his rookie season, it appears being teammates with Kobe Bryant may have help Russell in one major way. He unveiled his new post up game in Summer League against the Pelicans, and it’s going to make him even more dynamic as a point guard. At 6’5” and nearly 200 pounds, Russell’s newfound ability to post up smaller guards is going to improve his scoring ability immensely. His turnaround jumper and baseline spin move already look developed heading into his second season.
D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram complement each other well
D’angelo Russell is a born leader. He was a leader at Ohio State, and he’s shown leadership on the Lakers even as Kobe Bryant’s second in command. Early in Summer League, it’s clear that Russell understands it’s now solely his job to lead this Lakers team, and he’s been seen giving valuable advice to an eager-to-learn Brandon Ingram. It’s clear this is Russell’s team, not in the sense that he’s the best player on the team and other players need to respect that, but in the sense that he’s going to run the offense and guide the team through adversity.
Last season, that leadership was questioned when he filmed teammate Nick Young discussing private matters, but he’s already shown maturity by publicly apologizing to Young and filming a hilarious Footlocker commercial addressing the affair (no pun intended).
The relationship that’s been built between Russell and Ingram will help them succeed early on as teammates, and they pair well in their playing style. Russell doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands and can find the open shooter, which will allow Ingram to find open shots and have plenty of isolation opportunities. Ingram’s attacking style and his ability to pass off the drive will give D’Angelo Russell plenty of spot up 3’s.
As individuals, Russell and Ingram don’t have the talent that Westbrook and Durant have. Westbrook’s a far more explosive scorer than Russell even has the potential to be, and Durant’s elite inside-out scoring ability is all time great. That being said, Russell and Ingram have the potential to be far better teammates and fits for each other’s style of play than Westbrook and Durant ever were. The ex Thunder duo suffered from issues of ego, and Westbrook’s selfishness with the ball and low shooting percentage hurt their ability to win a championship. If D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram show elite work ethic, control their egos, and allow Luke Walton to design a winning game plan from the lessons he learned in Golden State, they have the potential to be the NBA’s next dominant duo.
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