Brandon Ingram 'bright spot' for Lakers in Summer League debut

ByBaxter Holmes ESPN logo
Saturday, July 9, 2016

LAS VEGAS -- D'Angelo Russell knows the stakes for Brandon Ingram, and Russell knows them better than anyone else.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Russell joined the Los Angeles Lakers amid a boatload of expectations, with the team's higher-ups saying he carried "superstar" potential and could pass the ball like Magic Johnson.

Then Russell debuted in NBA summer league last summer, and the point guard and former Ohio State standout, beset by nerves and the weight of the moment, struggled quite a bit.

So when Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft and a forward who the Lakers believe can help resurrect their fallen franchise, made his summer league debut Friday, Russell came up to the 6-foot-9 forward and told him to just relax.

Thing is, Ingram didn't need too much guidance on staying calm. Even with the temperatures climbing to triple digits outside the Thomas & Mack Center, Ingram remained unusually cool for an 18-year-old on his first NBA stage.

"Coming into this game, I wasn't nervous at all, which was surprising," Ingram said after the Lakers' 85-65 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The former Duke freshman standout finished with a modest stat line of 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, four rebounds, a pair of blocks and an assist, but what most impressed his Lakers teammates and coaches was how he didn't force the action whether he had the ball or didn't.

"I can really only remember maybe one forced shot, which is hard to do, especially in a summer league environment where you kind of get caught up in the moment and the pace of the game," said Lakers assistant Jesse Mermuys, who is coaching the team's summer league squad. "I thought he really let the game come to him, and that was really a bright spot for us."

Was there anything that surprised the staff?

"No, because obviously everyone is pretty excited about him," Mermuys said. "I think from a coaching standpoint, you want to try to temper expectations, but at the same time you want to celebrate when he goes out there and does some good stuff.

"I think we're just really excited about what we have to work with. And besides his playing -- obviously he had some big-time moments tonight -- but him just really as a coachable teammate and person. He's just a pleasure to coach."

Russell, who scored 20 points and added 11 rebounds and six assists, said of Ingram: "It didn't even look like he was trying. I kept telling him, when he starts trying, it's going to be scary. He played well."

Ingram knocked down an early jumper, had a dunk late after pump-faking a defender near the perimeter and proved he could finish at the rim. There were enough flashes to give a crowd full of Lakers fans plenty to cheer about.

But Ingram said his no-rush demeanor on the floor is a product of his coaching through the years dating back to youth sports and even at Duke.

"They always told me to let the game come to me," Ingram said, speaking of his past coaches. "That's what I did tonight. I didn't force anything."

Ingram also credited his teammates, especially Russell.

"He's been a leader through practice, and of course he was a leader today, just telling me to get to my spots and he'll find me," Ingram said. "Just playing with D'Angelo, he makes the game a lot easier -- just getting to my spots. He has confidence in me, so I have confidence in myself to get to my midrange pull-up and get to the basket."

Though Ingram is only a year removed from college and needs to add strength to his spindly frame, Russell is confident that the forward with a 7-3 wingspan and a 9-2 standing reach can acclimate quickly to the NBA.

"I feel like just with the proper guidance, he'll grow every day, starting in practice," Russell said. "It just looks easy for him. He has some God-given talent with his length and his athleticism. I don't feel like he'll struggle. I feel like he'll be good."

The Lakers have practiced together only a few days, but Ingram was impressive enough in those sessions that teammate Larry Nance Jr.declared that Ingram was "the real deal." Nance stuck by his proclamation after Friday's game.

"Same thing -- kid can play," Nance said. "He can do it in a lot of different ways, shooting and driving, and I think we saw a dunk. He's just extremely versatile, and I'm looking forward to playing with him."

Now comes an even more tantalizing test for Ingram -- a matchup against No. 1 overall pickBen Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers. Ingram and the Lakers will face Simmons during the final summer league game Saturday.

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