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NBA Daily: Trade Watch – Northwest Division

Ever since he came into this league, Brandon Ingram has had ginormous and arguably unfair expectations.

Being selected second overall in what was believed to be a two-man draft is one thing. Being selected by one of the league’s most storied franchises along with that is another. Those two combined is sure to generate a lot of pressure to be great.

Before LeBron came to LA, Ingram was supposed to be the leader of the Lakers’ next generation of success. King James coming to town changed the course a tad, but with him on the team, Ingram was believed to be his second-in-command. Considering that title was previously held by the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, that was a tall order to ask of a third-year player like Brandon.

Thus far, the results have not been bad. They just haven’t been as substantial as Lakers faithful would have hoped. Ingram is currently scoring 16.3 points a game on 46.6 percent shooting from the field including almost 30 percent from three in 32.7 minutes a game on average. Along with that, Ingram is also averaging almost five rebounds and three assists a game.

Again, those are adequate numbers. They are just not satisfactory given where the bar was set for him this season. Compare the numbers he’s putting up to what they were last season. Ingram averaged 16.1 points on 47 percent shooting including 39 percent from distance along with 5.3 rebounds and almost four assists in 33.5 minutes a game. The expectation for Ingram was for his game to take another step forward. As you can see, he hasn’t done it.

His net rating doesn’t help his case either because right now, it’s not positive or negative. As it stands, according to NBA.com, Ingram’s net rating is zero. In retrospect, he’s not hurting the Lakers, but he’s not helping them either.

In his defense, his stagnated progress as a playmaker may have come from the Lakers adding a few too many playmakers this summer. LeBron, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson are all used to having the ball in their hands to be the most effective players they can be, and Michael Beasley is a score-first wing. It’s a little hard to reach your potential when the ball isn’t in your hands a fair amount of the time.

Ingram also didn’t ask for this. He was thrust into such an important role so early into his young career that there was bound to be some hardship. The man is only 21 years old and doesn’t boast one second of playoff experience. Now he’s expected to help a LeBron-led Lakers team fight through the basketball equivalent of a warzone that is the Western Conference.

Because of that, Brandon does not have time to wait. He has to produce consistently now if the Lakers hope to go on a lengthy playoff run. At first glance, those expectations seem unrealistic, but the reason why he has so much asked of him is that we have seen him prove himself as the jack-of-all-trades player that the Lakers have wanted him to be.

Remember when the Lakers experimented with the “Point Ingram” offense last season? Until Ingram suffered an injury that derailed almost the rest of his season, the experiment was getting favorable results. From Jan. 26 to March 1, Ingram averaged 18.4 points on 52.1 percent shooting including 46.7 percent from three as well as 5.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The Lakers went 9-6 in that span and were plus-10.1 with Brandon on the floor, so he has shown that he can help your team win if he’s the focal point.

When LeBron’s on your team, you can’t really be the focal point. In Ingram’s case, he has to adapt to a supplementary role which he hasn’t exactly run with. In fact, Kyle Kuzma has outshined him in that regard. Recently, however, circumstances have given Ingram the chance to prove himself. Sadly, it hasn’t gone all that swimmingly for him.

Recent injuries to LeBron and Rondo have forced Ingram into a bigger role as a facilitator. With an increase in playing time and the ball in his hands more, he still hasn’t exactly taken it up a notch.

In 36 minutes per game, Ingram’s averaged 17.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting, along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. That’s an improvement compared to his numbers overall, but that stat line also includes shooting 27.3 percent from three and 3.4 turnovers on average per game. Worst of all, the Lakers have gone 5-8 in that span and have been a minus-7.9 with Ingram on the floor.

Just because he hasn’t filled the void left by LeBron does not mean that all is lost for him this season. The Lakers as we know it are going through even more changes at the moment. With LeBron and Rondo coming back within the next week or so, and Lonzo Ball out for the next four to six weeks, this is a rare chance for Ingram to prove that he can blend in with his well-repped teammates.

Ball’s absence will create more playmaking opportunities for Ingram, and this season, metrics show that he actually has played well next to both Rondo and LeBron. Currently, Ingram and Rondo paired together make for one of the Lakers’ highest two-man net ratings, as the Lakers are plus-10.2 when both of them share the floor. His net rating with LeBron is lower at plus-1.6, but that’s still positive, call it what you will.

If the Lakers are to prove they can play with the big boys, they need Ingram to step up to the plate. Right now, only LeBron and Rondo are safe bets to bring their A-game to the table when and if the playoffs come around. The veterans the Lakers have are either old or unpredictable. Their other young guys, as good as they’ve been, are inexperienced with Brandon being no exception. It’s a lot to ask for him to take on that load,

There is the possibility that Ingram just doesn’t fit with what the Lakers are trying to do. The only way to know for sure is to see how he does over the latter half of this season.

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