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Why Brandon Ingram suddenly looks like a star

You might want to delete your “Ingram is a bust” tweets.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Ingram is the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-year project who grew so slowly, they almost gave up on him. His limited shooting and awkward fit in an LA lineup that struggles to space the floor prevented him from developing any sort of consistency in his first two seasons. The label of a “bust” was on the horizon, if not prematurely given already. Consider that the New Orleans Pelicans weren’t even kind-of interested in trading Anthony Davis for a package centered around the former No. 2-overall pick.

But since the trade deadline came and went, Ingram’s turned on the jets and has looked like the secondary star LeBron James has needed all season long. Per StatMuse, in Ingram’s last nine games, he’s averaged 24 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent from three-point range, as well as six rebounds and three assists per game.

His potential may have finally been appreciated on Friday night, when Ingram finished with 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting and eight rebounds in a tight loss to the league-leading Bucks.

Hold on to your Ingram stock.

Ingram’s much stronger, and it’s making a difference on drives to the rim

Ingram’s biggest strengths come from his unique size: a 6’9 perimeter player with guard skills and a 7’3 wingspan is a rarity. In his first two and a half seasons, he failed to use those gifts on a nightly basis. That was in part because he was so fragile that any bump in the lane sent him flying in another direction.

But against Milwaukee, Ingram was given space by James and others to operate around the perimeter and cruise to the bucket. His explosiveness has been there since his rookie season, but the added muscle mass is what’s keeping him in the paint for tougher finishes.

He even has the explosion to posterize opponents now.

Ingram is finally using his length to shoot over the defense

Ingram has adopted a higher release point in LA than he had at Duke. These days, he’s releasing his shots clear above his head in the mid-range, which negates shot-blockers’ impact on his delivery and follow-through. Think of his release point as a less exaggerated version of Dirk Nowitzki’s.

His increased hang time also helps.

This new line of sight makes him believe that every shot has a chance to go in. It’s coerced him into an unhealthy amount of contested mid-range attempts that are frowned upon in the NBA’s current economy, but this frame of mind can be further reworked into a more efficient palate of shots with the proper coaching.

Ingram’s improved his playmaking and handle as well

Ingram was compared to Kevin Durant among other slashing, scoring point-forwards coming into the NBA because of his grace with the ball in his hands. He isn’t a spot-up wing like Klay Thompson. He’s a rhythm forward who operates best when the ball is in his hands for most of the possession.

Now, he has the tools to actually blow by the first and second line of defense. His body is strong enough to power past an on-ball defender, and his ball-handling is tight enough to not cough it up as he does so.

He showed that a number of times against the Bucks, as he eluded Eric Bledsoe, Middleton, or whomever played him tight at the arc.

Handles like this are what makes Durant, James, Paul George, and other like-minded point-forwards special. Ingram’s not at their level yet, but he’s getting closer.

More importantly, Ingram’s skills have improved to the point that James is deferring to involve Ingram more in the offense.

Coming into the NBA, Ingram was one of the youngest players in his draft class. He’s still only 21 years old, with a long playing career ahead of him. He may be developing slowly, but the reason he was taken at No. 2 three years ago has been on display of late.

Even if his emergence is too little, too late to save their messy 2018-19 season, the Lakers have to be thrilled by Ingram’s development. At the very least, New Orleans might feel a whole lot differently about Ingram when Davis trade negotiations restart in June.