As we reflect on our first look at Brandon Ingram in NBA Summer League action, just what exactly is his professional ceiling with the Los Angeles Lakers?
Comparisons for a player generally come from describing him to someone who’s never seen him play or needs a quick “scouting report.” The thing about this particular observation, though, is that Durant agrees.
“He reminds me of myself, but he’s a little farther along than I was at that stage,” Durant said after Team USA practice. “I feel like if you continue to keep working, he’s with a great organization that’s going to push him and put him in a good position to be who he is.
“Continue to just work hard and believe in himself and everything is possible for him. He’s a great player. I watched him almost every game this season. I’m a huge fan, first person I can say that I can look at him and feel like I’m looking in the mirror. I’m rooting for him.”
That’s very high praise for a rookie who hasn’t played in any NBA games outside of Summer League. Durant is an established talent while Ingram is still all potential, though it’s curious to think about what he means when he said Ingram is farther along than he was at this point.
Nevertheless, it seems that Ingram will hear Durant’s name alongside his so long as he keeps improving and adding to his game at the next level.
But is Durant his ultimate ceiling?
Let’s start by looking at their lone seasons in college. When stacking the two up, the only areas Ingram did better in (slightly) was in his three-point shooting, where he hit on 41 percent of his shots compared to Durant’s 40.4 percent and assists, in which he averaged 2.0 per game to Durant’s 1.3
Other than that it’s not even close. Durant averaged more points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game while shooting better overall from the floor and the free throw line. Not only that, but Durant was stronger and had a weight advantage that Ingram doesn’t have yet coming out of college.
So what did Durant mean when he said what he said?
It has to do with Ingram’s feel for the game.
Even though those two assists don’t seem like much over the course of an entire game, they’re significant because of how he got them.
Ingram doesn’t just make lucky passes off the dribble and assist on baskets in which that wasn’t the plan. He’s an unselfish player who looks to set up his teammates when he has the chance.
That’s the part of his game that Durant didn’t have in his lone season at Texas. Most of what Durant did was off of natural ability and talent, as he was a far superior athlete than most of his peers because of his size, length and speed.
Ingram isn’t an elite athlete in terms of quickness and agility, but he does have length similar to Durant as well as a better handle at this stage in his development.
Athletic abilities are one key to having major success in the NBA because not only are the other players better conditioned and stronger as grown men, but the game itself is played at a much faster pace built around quick shots in transition and precise execution in the halfcourt.
But if you’re crafty and know how to take advantage of your strengths? Players have shown time and time again that the understanding of the game can take you farther than some of the best athletes to lace up their sneakers on an NBA floor.
Ingram’s basketball IQ is only going to keep growing as he learns and experiences more by playing in the professional game. There’s nothing broken with his shooting stroke, and it’s a given he’ll continue to add to his frame as he spends more time in the weight room.
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His upside isn’t just predicated on scoring; he has all the potential of a playmaking small forward who’s just as deadly shooting off the catch as he is creating his own offense, in addition to setting up his teammates.
It took Durant years to get to where he is now as a passer, but Ingram has shown he could get to that level in half the time.
Will he ever be as great of a pure scorer as Durant? I think there’s really only one KD and it’s not a fair comparison to mention Ingram when talking about career trajectory.
Ingram will end up among the better players of his generation when it’s all said and done, but to think he’ll average 30-plus points per game at some point isn’t a thought the basketball community should have as he’s still in his teens.
He’s going to go through his struggles adjusting to the physicality of the NBA, but he’ll have success in other areas outside of putting points on the board from the opening tip.