EL SEGUNDO – As he carried sneakers with one hand and his workout clothing with the other, Brandon Ingram remained intent on continuing his on-court regimen.
The Lakers’ rookie forward had already spent the team’s “offday” on Saturday working out at the team’s practice facility. He followed that up with an individual workout with Lakers assistant coach Brian Keefe, who has trained Ingram on a nearly daily basis. Ingram’s day was hardly finished, though. Even at 8:30 p.m., Ingram still had time for one more workout.
There marked only one problem, though. The Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders, already took the floor for a regular-season game. But just as he has reacted to a swarm of defenders trying to physically intimidate him, Ingram did not allow the D-Fenders’ itinerary to disrupt his routine. He simply found a gym nearly five minutes away from the Lakers’ facility to sweat some more.
“If I’m not asleep,” Ingram said, grinning, “it’s probably all basketball.”
That scene captures why the Lakers have become encouraged with Ingram’s steady growth as a defender, post player and ball handler. It also explains why the Lakers have stayed patient with Ingram when he has averaged 7.9 points on a 36.9 percent clip.
“When you have that type of work ethic and you can play basketball the way he can,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “he’s going to continue to get better and better at different things.”
Ingram admitted at times his rookie season has felt like a “job,” as he has already logged more games than his freshman season last year at Duke. Ingram also has taken plenty of more flights. Yet, Ingram also has viewed the gym as his “little sanctuary.” So it seemed fitting that location has served Ingram both for his growth, both spiritually and with his craft.
“I’m struggling from the field and shooting the basketball,” Ingram said. “So I’m trying to get extra repetition on what I’m struggling with and doing what I normally do.”
Ingram normally spends every off-day and game day mostly consumed with basketball.
On game days, Ingram will go to morning shootaround, grab lunch, nap and then head to the arena three hours before tip to work out with Keefe. On practice days, Ingram will sweat in the gym before spending time with his family, going to an amusement park, hang out with his brother Bo and then heading back to the gym again for more work.
Yet, Ingram has resisted toward falling into the trap the late John Wooden once warned about mistaking activity for achievement. Amid his shooting struggles, Ingram has focused more on attacking the basket in recent games to add another layer of effectiveness.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats, Ingram has made and taken the plurality of his shots at the rim in the past 10 games (16-of-23, 69.6%). That marks a relative increase from his season totals (47 of 77, 61%). In the past 10 games, Ingram has also taken proportionally fewer mid range shots (5 of 18) and 3-pointers (4-of-18) than his season totals both from mid range (30 of 92) and from behind the arc (23 of 86)
“I’m starting to feel comfortable in finding the opening in the offense and trying to make plays for myself,” Ingram said. “I’m just seeing the game better. I’m just being more aggressive and having the ball in my hand and trying to make plays for myself. I see more openings for myself. Of course, I also see more passes from my teammates.”
Ingram has also learned a few other things. He has absorbed lessons from Keefe on how to take off with one foot instead of two. The 6-foot-9, 190-pound Ingram has also added an unspecified amount of muscle and shown more willingness to absorb contact. As Walton observed, “he’s starting to figure out how he needs to attack the rim at this level.”
In related news, Ingram has shown more production in the past three games. After logging 11 points while shooting 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-4 from 3-point range in Thursday’s loss to Portland, Ingram posted season-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting both on Friday against Miami and Sunday against Orlando. Ingram joked afterwards that “17 is my lucky number.”
“We’re big fans of what he can do on the basketball court,” Walton said of Ingram. “Whether he’s shooting 1 for 8 or scoring 17 points, we keep leaving him out there because we know what he’s capable of doing.”
Thus far, Walton has seen Ingram remain effective by using his size and length to defend scorers. He has noticed Ingram averaging 4.1 rebounds per game. Though Walton has seen Ingram has occasionally forced shots out of frustration and make defensive lapses, the mistakes have not become egregious enough to remove him from crunch time.
“There’s times we should take him out. But we need to get him that experience as long as he’s not playing the wrong way, taking bad shots, being selfish, or being lazy on defense,” Walton said. “If he’s doing any of those things, he has to come out. That’s the only thing that’s right. But if he’s trying to do what’s right and trying to make the right plays, we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him play through those mistakes.”
Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell called it “big time” that Ingram has managed to overcome those mistakes without forcing anything. Lakers veteran forward Luol Deng, who has been Ingram’s main mentor this season, has become just as encouraged with his work ethic as his athleticism and shooting abilities.
“The best thing about Brandon is his maturity level,” Deng said. “Being such a young kid, it’s the way he responds to everything. Even when he makes a mistake and you tell him something, the way he responds, he really listens and agrees to everything you tell him.”
So, Ingram will continue to report to the gym even at odd hours, even if it requires him to alter his routine to accommodate the D-Fenders’ schedule.