SAN DIEGO – The movement looked so natural as Brandon Ingram navigated his way around the court.
He sank shots with balance as he set his feet and squared up in triple threat position. He scanned the court and found open teammates both in half-court and transition. He slid his deceptively thin frame into the lane to pluck rebounds off the rim as if they were apples on a tree.
The Lakers fell in love with Ingram when he perfected all those qualities during his lone season at Duke. After seeing him experience some hiccups in summer league and training camp, the Lakers saw Ingram flash signs of promising growth in their 123-112 preseason loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday at Valley View Casino Center.
Ingram led the Lakers in points (21), in shooting efficiency (7 of 10) and rebounds (seven). He occasionally took care of ball handling duties both to tap into his versatility and take advantage of Golden State’s matchups that calls for positions to become interchangeable. And he put together a performance that made Lakers coach Luke Walton feel fuzzy about the team’s No. 2 draft pick.
“Brandon is further along as a basketball player than I would expect any kid coming out of college after one year to be,” Walton said. “As far as since we’ve started, he’s picking up the NBA game rather quickly.”
But perhaps mindful that he has averaged six points on a 32.5 percent clip, Ingram respectfully disagreed.
After all, Ingram has admitted he felt he rushed shots in past games. He has admitted he wants to prove worthy of a starting position. And he has admitted he wants to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.
“As a player, you’re never satisfied,” Ingram said. “So I don’t think I’ve exceeded my expectations. I have a high expectation of myself.”
Hence, Ingram faulted himself for a few things.
“I don’t think I was aggressive every game,” Ingram said. “I don’t think I got after it defensively every game. I took a couple of plays off. So I think there’s a bunch of room for improvement for myself and the rest of the team and what we need to work on.”
Through those struggles, the Lakers continuously provided positive reinforcement. His teammates encouraged him to stay patient and trust his shot-making abilities. His head coach praised him for his defensive effort. And Walton and assistant coach Brian Shaw experimented with Ingram assuming ball-handling responsibilities in recent practices.
All of which led to Ingram believe he’s “making progressions every time I step out on the floor” for one simple reason.
“It’s about gaining confidence each and every game,” Ingram said. “Every single game, it’s helping me out a lot.”
It also came at an opportune time. The Lakers (2-5) have one preseason game left on Friday against Phoenix in Anaheim before their season opener next week against Houston at Staples Center.
“When you get a young guy that can have a good game before the season starts, it can help settle him in,” Walton said. “It’ll be good forhis confidence to have a game like that.”
Even if Ingram may have fought some insecurities inwardly, he masked them well with his stoic demeanor.
“For a lot of young guys, to have that much pressure playing for the Lakers as the No. 2 pick, they would get discouraged easily,” Walton said. “Then they shy away. But anytime you talk to him, he’s stayed confident. He believes in what he can do. It was nice to see that happen tonight that he could show off some of those skills.”
Ingram showed some of those skills in different ways.
He scored off catch-and-shoot opportunities. He did so after performing a series of pump fakes to throw his defenders off balance. He also attacked the basket both to increase his chances for a high-percentage shot and trips to the foul line (5-of-6).
Ingram snuck into the lane to convert on a putback off of Larry Nance Jr’s. missed free throw. He set up Nick Young for an open 3-pointer in transition. Ingram often brought the ball up the court after grabbing a rebound.
Perhaps the only negative entailed having no answers in the Lakers’ team-wide effort in containing his idol Kevin Durant, who had 27 points on a 10-of-19 clip.
“He does well every night. That’s nothing different,” Ingram said, laughing. “His consistency is every night. That’s something I want to get to in being consistent every single night.”
Ingram made that first step on Wednesday against Golden State, providing all the qualities that made the Lakers draft him in the first place.