25-under-25: Brandon Ingram is better than you think

Art by Andrew Maahs -- @BasemintDesign
Art by Andrew Maahs -- @BasemintDesign /

The Step Back is rolling out its 25-under-25 list over this week. Follow along with our rankings of the top 25 NBA players under the age of 25.

Brandon Ingram is the longest tenured Laker.

Rarely do you see a player who is just 21 years old and a veteran on the team. But Ingram has always been a rare player.

A product of Duke, Ingram came into the league with high expectations. He was the No. 2 pick in 2016 behind Ben Simmons. Some saw him as the next Kevin Durant — a skinny scorer with exceptional length who could get his shot off from anywhere, over anyone. Ingram’s rookie season was forgettable at best and “LOL Lakers” at worst. He averaged 9.4 points on 40 percent from the field, 29 percent from 3, and 62 percent from the line. Forget Kevin Durant, Ingram was barely Stanley Johnson.

Brandon Ingram
Art by Andrew Maahs — @BasemintDesign /

Nay sayers were quick to rip the Lakers for their selection. Ben Simmons didn’t even play the season after being drafted and people said he had a better rookie year. In fairness to Ingram, the Lakers were nine wins better than they were the previous season. He won more games in his rookie season than Kobe Bryant won in his last season. What does this mean? A washed Kobe is not better than a young Ingram. He also averaged more points than Kobe did in his rookie season. Thus, a rookie Kobe is not better than Ingram either.

Don’t hold Ingram’s rookie year against him. It’s not his fault genetics didn’t allow him to fill out. Last season, Ingram started to come into his own. He averaged 16.1 points on 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3.

Once again, Ingram outperformed Kobe. Through two seasons, Ingram is a better scorer than Kobe. Women lie, men lie….

Numbers don’t.

Ingram heads into this season not only as the long tenured Laker, but as unquestionably the most important Laker. You’re probably thinking LeBron James is the most important Laker. You’re wrong. We know what to expect from LeBron. Unless he suddenly gets old, he’s going to be the best player in the league for the 16th consecutive season. LeBron is used to the pressure. 2018-19 will be a whole new experience for Ingram.

Never forget that the Lakers were unwilling to part with Ingram this offseason. When everyone thought Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Anthony Davis, and Chris Paul were heading to Los Angeles, Magic Johnson told them, “Ya’ll can come, but we aren’t giving up Ingram for you.” He was supposed to be the next Kevin Durant, he’s already statistically ahead of Kobe Bryant, now he has to be just as good as an injured Kawhi Leonard. Need I remind you that he’s playing alongside LeBron, one of the most demanding teammates in NBA history? That’s a lot of pressure on a 21-year-old.

Great players thrive under the pressure Ingram is about to experience. Is Ingram a great player? According to our 25-under-25, there are 16 players under the age of 25 who are or will be better than Ingram. Depending on your definition of “great,” Ingram would seemingly fall short. This assumes our list is correct, which I assure you it is. We have a very complicated voting system that takes into account everything from marketability to hair style to sleep schedules. Ingram’s messy beard hurt his overall score.

Rest easy, Lakers fans. I didn’t contribute to Ingram’s place on this list. I gave him high marks across the board and have been caping for Ingram dating back to his Duke days. I’m here to tell you that Ingram is great and will not crumble under pressure this season. Given his career trajectory and taking into account that he’ll be playing alongside the second greatest player of all-time, I expect a huge season for Ingram.

And how huge am I talking? Before looking at Ingram’s third year, we must first look at Kobe’s third year. Since, as I’ve covered, Ingram is statistically better than Kobe after two seasons. In his third season — and first full season as a starter — Bryant averaged 19.9 points on 46 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3 Ingram will shoot better from three than Bryant, so there are no concerns there. When it comes to points-per-game, it’s reasonable to expect Ingram to average around 21 this season. Why am I so focused on shooting and scoring? Because the team that scores the most; wins. As long as Ingram is putting the basket through the hoop, nothing else matters.

Next. Meet the 2018 NBA 25-under-25. dark

Most people are still sleeping on Ingram. I get it. He looks half asleep himself a lot of times. But don’t get sucked into the Lakers hating vortex. There’s a reason why the Lakers didn’t end up with Kawhi Leonard and why they didn’t pursue Paul George with more aggression. And there’s a reason why LeBron James came to Los Angeles.

Brandon Ingram.