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With all eyes on Lonzo, Ingram is key to Lakers' improvement

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With cameras and cellphones all focused on Lonzo Ball hoisting up a few shots at the end of the Lakers' first practice of the season, Brandon Ingram went about his business quietly.

The soft-spoken Ingram could get used to this.

"I like that," Ingram said of all the attention focused on Ball.

If Magic Johnson is as good at predictions as he was at winning, Ingram won't be flying under the radar for very long. While the basketball world watches to see what this year's No. 2 overall pick can do, what shoes Ball will wear and even what he ate for breakfast (he had waffles with eggs sunny side up by the way), the Lakers and Johnson are banking on last year's second pick to make noise this season.

"I think this is going to be a breakout season for BI," Johnson said. "We need him to step up and be the leading scorer on this team and really be aggressive on the offensive end."

Johnson not only is talking about Ingram as a potential candidate for Most Improved Player, but he's already envisioning Ingram and Ball as a "Showtime"-like pairing.

"I think him and Lonzo will have a great chemistry, like myself and James Worthy used to have where I knew I could look at James and he knew," Johnson said. "I knew what was going to happen and he knew what was going to happen. And James got out on that wing and boy, there was nobody in basketball like James Worthy being out on that wing. It is going to be the same with those two guys."

There's a lot the Lakers want to put on Ingram's shoulders this season. Besides having a breakout season and leading the team in scoring as Johnson says, head coach Luke Walton wants to see Ingram become a "great defender" this season. And GM Rob Pelinka is already touting Ingram as the team's vocal leader.

"They are challenging me in all ways," Ingram said. "They are going to coach me even harder just to be the player they want me to be."

Ingram says he has been working out since May 15, so much so that the Lakers said they have had to tell him and some of the other young players not to come into the gym on some nights and take it easy.

"Sometimes I snuck in," Ingram said with a chuckle.

Ingram might sneak back up on people this season. Even though he was drafted second behind Philadelphia's Ben Simmons in 2016, Ingram didn't start to feel comfortable until late in his rookie season, which finished with him averaging 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and just 40.2 percent shooting overall and 29.4 percent from 3-point range. The 20-year-old, though, started to show a glimpse of what he can do after the All-Star break, scoring in double figures in 18 of his final 21 games.

With Johnson tutoring him on how to finish at the rim, the 6-foot-9 Ingram gained more confidence even if he had a lot more muscle to add to his 190-pound frame. During the summer league opener in Las Vegas, Ingram scored 26 points before suffering a leg cramp. The Lakers had seen enough, shutting him down for precautionary reasons for the rest of summer league.

But that isn't where his summer ended. At the team's facility, Ingram often was the loudest voice on the court, according to many of the Lakers. This might come as a surprise since he is so soft spoken off the court.

"The word that comes to mind with him is leadership," Pelinka said. "He's one of our other leaders. The way he's done it is he is fiercely competitive. A lot of the pickup games, he's the guy that's going at you and trying to take you over. ... I think the improvement we've seen in his skills, his strength and just his confidence level is just unbelievable ... when I think of him, I think of the Laker leader. He's definitely that for us this year."

With such a young team featuring a rookie point guard like Ball, Ingram hopes to be a leader in his second year. Walton would love to see Ingram do some leading with his defense and long wingspan. The team has been preaching defense from the top to bottom of the organization.

"I would like him to become a great defender this year," Walton said. "I have no idea if it'll happen or not. It will happen during his career. ... The guy covers six feet with every slide he takes."

For now, Ingram is more than content with Ball earning all the attention. That might change a bit once the season starts if Ingram performs the way Johnson envisions.

"[Johnson told me] just to motivate these guys," Ingram said. "He tells me every day that I am going to kill it this season and going to have a breakout year and just to be a leader. Just try to come out here every day and bring a competitive spirit and try to lead these guys and be the best player that I can be."

Related Video
Ingram received great advice from Magic
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Brandon Ingram expresses how impressed he is with competiveness of the Lakers' rookies, including Lonzo Ball, and he reveals how Magic Johnson told him he was going to have a breakout year.

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