“Brandon Ingram” by Nathaniel S. Butler is licensed under Getty Images
His trainers and coaches double check they locked the door on their way out, vigilant that their lanky and zealous small forward would strain himself with an excess workout — or two.
So when reporters asked the former Duke star if he withheld himself from getting in the gym, Ingram struggled to deceit. He stuttered, “Uhh — Sometimes I snuck in,” he grinned vehemently, unable to restrain himself from telling the truth about his dogged work ethic.
One thing is for sure, Ingram has not rested on his laurels since being named the third recruit in the ESPN Top 100 or even when he was selected second behind Ben Simmons. If anything, not being named first added fuel to the fire.
Ingram spins in and out of traffic, but his opponents are anything but ferocious NBA defenders. Rather Micah Lancaster and other trainers hurl foam back rollers at their asphyxiated pupil.
Normal fans let these grueling workouts fall through the cracks of everyday life. Ingram merely embraces them. After all, Victor Oladipo, presumed most improved player, works out daily with Micah Lancaster akin Ingram.
In completing these workouts, his audacious goals are to be fulfilled. He yearns to be a consistent player, night in and night out. Too many times, he was bogged down with low energy and stamina. In today’s NBA, there is something to be said for consistency, to be able to battle against the longest and most athletic people in back to back days while still retaining favorable health.
Perhaps Ingram won’t be built like Lebron, clutch as Kobe, defensive-savvy as Pippen, but he still finds solace in his own skin. In an exit interview, Ingram explains to reporters the angular approach he is taking in ameliorating his playing style. For the former Duke standout, it is not one specific category, but a moderate improvement in each facet.
That’s what it’s going to be what it takes for Ingram to take that next step. For the most part, his augmentation as an overall basketball player is visible. He went from frail, overmatched rookie to a sophomore that created his own shots in a variety of situations. Most small forwards can spot up from deep, run off screens, or complete a simple pick and roll.
“Brandon Ingram” by Peyton Williams is licensed under Getty Images
It’s what Ingram cannot do yet that has onlookers salivating and chomping at the bit. When Lonzo went down with an injury, Ingram was the acting point guard. He was a spectacle to behold, a willowy skyscraper that moves from side-to-side elegantly. Luke Walton and his staff put Ingram in a myriad of situations that reflect the blueprint for vertically-inclined wings. Kevin Durant and Giannis are the beau ideal for the Lakers point forward, who is trying his hardest to perfect the craft.
Ingram’s relentless tenacity is the rationality for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs ardor to absorb the future star. The star power is hidden behind his gaunt frame and it’s practically preposterous to neglect it. Maybe that’s the driving reason a fusion of Kuzma, Ball, and a first-round pick is not enough, which is the currently the reported offer on the table.
Kawhi’s fit on the Lakers is where the rubber meets the road. Lebron, at 33, needs all the breaks he can get on the defensive end. Leonard would allow the 3-time MVP to recline defensively by latching onto the top offensive threat. On the offensive end, Kawhi’s ample skill set allows for The King to compose himself for an extra possession. Ingram, while he is waiting in the wings for his chance, is a young 21. Lebron does not have time for Ingram to fully evolve.
Before he went out with a quad injury, Leonard also displayed offensive dexterity that aligned him atop the pantheon of NBA immortal. His 27.5 points per 36 minutes in 2016-17 was a career high.
While he is certainly not an exact replacement for Leonard, Ingram boasts a lot of talents that Leonard simply did not exhibit by his second season. Leonard was not the creative dribbler or knockdown shooter Ingram is now. Of course, Leonard is a defensive stalwart and an anchor of his team on that end of the floor. Ingram’s 16.1 points per game did not even lead his team, nor did his 4.7 assists per game.
What Ingram has yet to manifest is the most intoxicating aspect about him, yet what he hasn’t manifested is conjointly sobering. If you’re the Lakers and you choose not to trade for Kawhi because of Ingram’s potential, you’re wagering a hefty bet on a danger hand. If you’re the Spurs and trade for Ingram, you’re playing it safe with a pocket ace. Ingram is going to be at the forefront of the best trade offer San Antonio sees. Simultaneously, Los Angeles will probably have to offer him if they want the former defensive player of the year.
Drenched in sweat following a strenuous training session with Lancaster, Ingram understands trials and tribulations are essential to his future success. Bend not break. Ingram has yet to realize his potential. Looking off into the distance, his eyes drooped down but chin up, the potential is surely out there somewhere.