When the Lakers signed Luol Deng in the summer, one of the first questions was who would start between Deng and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers most prized possession and the number 2 pick of the 2016 draft. Luke Walton made it clear early on that Deng will start, and that was fine at first. Coming into the year Deng was expected to be the better player by far. He was coming of a solid year in Miami with a big playoff run, but Deng, even with recent resurgence, has been underwhelming this year. Meanwhile, Ingram has not been the scorer he was expected to be but has excelled in all other areas. And with Ingram being a big part of this team’s future, it is time to start him.
Ingram has struggled to live up to his label as a scorer, which isn’t unexpected. He is so skinny he can not play through contact and has to push the ball to the rim, causing him to lose arc. After all Ingram does have a true shooting percentage of just 43%. However when playing with the 2 best passers on the team, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, all 3 score more efficiently. D’Angelo Russell has a 50.9% true shooting percentage. Julius Rande has a 54.8% true shooting percentage. But when those 3 play together, they have a 59% true shooting percentage. This was on full display against Portland where Ingram had an efficient 11 points on 3/6 FGs and 2/4 3-point FGs. This shooting translates offensively, without giving up anything defensively. The Russell-Ingram-Randle 3 man line up has the best offensive rating and 3rd best defensive rating of any 3 man line up to play 100 minutes. Luke and the Lakers need to get the three of them minutes together as much as possible. The best way to that is to start Ingram over Deng. Deng’s performance may benefit as well. On the bench, the offense plays with more freedom and less set plays. This could allow Deng to post up and cut more, rather than be used a spot up shooter. But the main concern is Ingram’s play, and that will most definitely benefit from being a starter.
The Lakers are only 3.5 games out of the 8th seed, and have most likely weathered he hardest part of the season. But playoffs is not the concern of this young team. While it would be nice, and I hope we stay in contention to give the Laker players an everyday goal. But the coaching staff’s and front office’s goal should be long term development. Ingram, along with Russell and Randle are the future of the team. Larry Nance Jr and Jordan Clarkson can be solid role players or an elite bench, but have limitations that will prevent them from being core pieces, mainly age wise. Ivica Zubac has potential but is largely unproven. The former 3 hold the keys to this franchise and need to be starting. Russell and Randle already do, it’s time for Ingram to join them. It will also let Ingram play the stopper role the Lakers hope he will play for the next 15 years, as he will guard he likes of Kawhi Lenoard, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, and Lebron James to start games. Starting will also cause Ingram to get more important minutes. The starts of games are huge as it is literally anyone’s game, and starters are often the closers as well, and ending the game is something Ingram must do, especially since he was a “clutch” player in college. This is something he will be asked to do anyways, so why not now? He has been playing better anyways, with his best game so far against Miami (17-6-4 on 6/9 shooting).
Brandon Ingram is visibly raw, and it is time for the Lakers to cook him. He is the future franchise player and he needs to get the time to grow into it. The best way to that is to start him, allowing him to play with the rest of the Lakers core in D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, facing better opponents, and play not only more minutes, but more meaningful minutes.