Lakers: Brandon Ingram Should Stay on Wing Long-Term

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Brandon Ingram (Duke) walks off stage after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Brandon Ingram (Duke) walks off stage after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Rookie Brandon Ingram is a young, versatile weapon for the Lakers going forward, but they shouldn’t make the mistake of moving him off of the wing

Although he didn’t dominate Summer League, lanky sharp-shooter Brandon Ingram showed the tools and well-rounded scoring ability that made him such a highly touted prospect coming into the 2016 NBA draft. However, the most striking aspect of Ingram’s game may have been his versatility.

With incredible height and length coupled with solid quickness and coordination, Ingram showed the ability to shoot over smaller players and drive past slower ones. He also demonstrated his ability to elevate high above the rim for blocks and dunks, putting his length to good use.

While this type of versatility is incredibly valuable in today’s NBA, it has also raised questions about what Ingram’s primary position should be throughout his career. While he will most likely spend most of his time on the wing during his rookie season, many have suggested that he should move to power forward at some point in his career—particularly after he puts on more muscle and develops a more NBA-ready frame.

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This has become something of a craze of late, with any player taller than 6-9 who can shoot being automatically labeled as a potential or immediate stretch four. The Pacers have even attempted to play Paul George at power forward, an experiment that didn’t seem to be appreciated by the star himself.

Many wings around the league have benefited from spending more time at the bigger forward spot, with players like Luol Deng and Jared Dudley revitalizing their careers in this manner. However, moving Brandon Ingram to that spot on a full time basis would be a mistake for the Lakers for several reasons.

First, it simply doesn’t play to his strengths. Ingram has a length advantage over most wings and, while this advantage wouldn’t be completely negated when going up against power forwards, it would be far less significant. This would force him to rely more heavily on his ability to go past his defender, which could ultimately lead to a significantly increased physical toll on the slender Ingram.

Brandon Ingram’s slight frame is yet another reason why a move to power forward would be a mistake. While it is possible that Brandon Ingram will add significant weight over the course of his career, it is highly likely he will always be one of the slimmer players in the league, a la Kevin Durant. Forcing him to match up on both ends with bigger players could lead to teams exploiting one of the few weaknesses in his game, as well increase the chance of injury.

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Matching up with bigger players on a regular basis could also make it more difficult for him to affect the game on both sides of the floor. While his length and athleticism will allow him to block shots and create steals from either forward position, playing him against bulkier players could make him a liability in the post.

While he will still have problems with the stronger small forwards in the NBA, there is no reason to magnify that issue by purposefully matching him up with stronger players. Ingram has the chance to develop into an impact defender on the wing, particularly considering his ability to serve as a second or third rim-protector in help situations. However, considering his slight build, it is highly unlikely that Ingram would ever be considered an impact defender as a power forward.

Playing Ingram at the four could also stunt his growth as a player over the course of his career. Ingram has shown an impressive ability to create plays for others, as well as to make use of the entire court on offense. He was effective in transition, from behind the arc, from the triple-threat, and from the post in college.

While Ingram would have some opportunities in these areas as a power forward, playing on the wing would give him a much greater degree of flexibility to choose his approach. Wing players tend to handle the ball much more than stretch fours, with the latter typically serving as a spot-up target for the team’s play-makers. When taking into consideration Ingram’s diverse skill-set and sky-high potential, the team should strive to develop him into as well-rounded of a player as possible.

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Although the Lakers should be excited about Brandon Ingram’s versatility, they should opt to keep him as a small-forward throughout his career. While he will be able to be effective at the four in specific situations and match-ups, the three is the position where he will be able to gain the most consistent advantage over his competition. The Lakers have their small-forward of the future, and there’s no reason to try to change that.