Brandon Ingram and the new patience of the Los Angeles Lakers

Dec 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Jodie Meeks (20) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Jodie Meeks (20) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Brandon Ingram occasionally flashes a moment of brilliance. With his slight frame and deceptive speed, he can squeeze through defenders and explode to the basket. His slenderness belies his strength. He can work his way into decent position and grab rebounds and put backs. Then, sometimes, that athleticism is unleashed.

However, there are also the moments when Ingram looks like a 19-year-old rookie, someone who is still getting used to the NBA and does not quite have the speed of the game down. Much less, the strength.

It probably helps the rest of the 2016 NBA Draft class has not played particularly well — only four players have a positive VORP, according to Basketball-Reference, and, of course, top overall pick Ben Simmons is out with an injury — but Ingram is not facing the normal pressures of a budding young superstar.

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He and Simmons were the two “can’t-miss” stars of this draft. The foot fracture gave Simmons a pass. But the Los Angeles Lakers and Ingram? Even in the first year post-Kobe Bryant, this is still the same Lakers franchise that has always seemed to be against a traditional rebuild. They do not stay down for long, especially after experiencing their longest playoff drought at three years (and likely to be a fourth).

Therefore, what is perhaps most amazing about Ingram is that no one within the Lakers organization seems to be putting pressure on him to do more.

Entering Thursday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Ingram was averaging 7.5 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game. He was shooting 34.9 percent from the floor and 25.3 percent from beyond the arc. His career high is 17 points against the Toronto Raptors in early December and he has just eight games scoring more than 10 points.

All anyone has to hint at what Ingram can be are those flashes — flashes our Cole Zwicker broke down in depth a few weeks ago. To the uninitiated, all they can say when they watch Ingram is that there is something there. I am not sure what that is, but it is something.

What’s important is Ingram has promise. He is a key part of the Lakers long-term future, but he is not necessarily their present. And for a franchise that has made a lot of its past and always has relevance in its presence, Ingram’s development is the story for the team, one that is long rather than a short story.

Much of the rest of the Lakers’ season may be in how they manage this young player’s minutes. Along with their other prospects like D’Angelo Russell — 2015’s second overall pick who got more minutes immediately — the Lakers will be focusing more and more on their future. How they go about that is the big mystery for the second half. Do they throw Ingram into the fire at some point with the season lost? Or do they keep developing him slowly, carving a role for him on the bench to gain some confidence without overexposure?

More importantly, do the Lakers try to push the process forward, give up on the slowly developing Ingram to chase some playoff glory through free agency or a veteran?

It’s worth keeping in mind that this does seem like a different kind of Lakers team than years past. Luke Walton told Zach Lowe of recently he believes the Lakers are in it for the long haul. There is not a quick fix coming because they are committed to building through the draft. That puts pressure on a player like Ingram to perform and perform quickly.

Or at least it would if this were the “old” Lakers, the team that demanded competitiveness every year and did not stand for long rebuilds. This Lakers team, led by Luke Walton and relying on the draft since they struck out so much on free agents the last two years, is going a different direction and is asking their fans to expect something different.

How long they can wait might depend on how Ingram grows.

Ingram’s development is a microcosm of this new Los Angeles team as a whole, one in which Walton is trying to build a culture we have not seen from the franchise in decades. There is time to build and grow, which the Lakers recognized by resetting their roster. They are taking the losses now, knowing some reward is down the line. While it may not be immediate — the Lakers owe their pick if it is outside the top three to the Philadelphia 76ers this year — the have one of the more exciting young cores in the NBA.

The Lakers are doing something they have rarely done: A complete reset, and there is never any certainty that it will all work out. They have never had to wait on faith. They have always had a destiny about them. Things always seem to work out for them — whether it is attracting Wilt Chamberlain, drafting Magic Johnson the one time they had the top pick or luring Shaquille O’Neal. Los Angeles is a franchise that makes things happen.

Perhaps this talk of patience and culture is a ruse. Perhaps it is a lesson learned from being spurned in free agency the last two summers. The Lakers glitz does not have the shine it once did. Los Angeles did not enter this season expecting to pressure for the playoffs. The team’s hot start was a nice story showing there was real buy in to what Walton brought.

His approach was less burying young players and more putting them in spaces to succeed. He is not benching Ingram for his lack of production and more giving him exactly what he can handle. His work load will grow with his comfort. And he should work his way into the starting lineup at some point, just to see what he can do.

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And that is where Ingram comes in and the situation he faces as he tries to find his path to stardom with the Lakers. He dons that storied jersey at a time where the pressure to win is nonexistent and the pressure on him to develop and perform immediately is at its lowest.

Ingram may very well embody how much patience the Lakers have to rebuild and grow. He is quite possibly their next star, but he still has a lot of growing to get there. A lot of growing. And the Lakers are not throwing him into the fire. Ingram is a product of faith and of a team and a fan base believing in the future like 29 other franchises usually have to. A product of patient development and trust.

The Lakers are unfamiliar with this kind of patience. They are unfamiliar with this uncertainty. As Ingram continues to show flashes of what he can do, the Lakers will have to wait and believe the flashes will develop into something real soon.