Thanks for tuning in to the second post for Duke in the NBA weekly. For more daily updates on Duke in the NBA, follow the Instagram account @dukeinnbaweekly. On that account I covered some of the big performances and major injury updates from the week, but all of that will be touched on in this edition and with deeper analysis. In this edition I will cover some of the big performers of the week as well as a deep dive on Brandon Ingram and how he has been performing for the Lakers, during this extended stretch with no LeBron James. (I apologize the post was delayed a day this week due to MLK day making Monday my Sunday this week)
Notable Performers on the week
When covering Duke in the NBA we all know that one guy stands out above the rest. The originator of the one and done era at Duke, an NBA champion, and the leader of a team that has a legit chance to make the NBA finals and hopefully challenge the Warriors. Kyrie Irving will have a statue built of himself one day, maybe in Cleveland, maybe Boston, maybe somewhere else. There is really no ceiling to his game and really nothing he can’t do. For everything that he has accomplished in the league and for the high expectations everyone has for him, this week was still a MONSTER week for Kyrie.
Kyrie was inactive on Monday due to what was said to be a right quad contusion, and as a result the Celtics lost their 3rd straight game, heading into a home game with the then best record in the league Toronto Raptors. With questions about leadership and commitment after a late loss to Orlando, negative questions and concerns circled around the team leading into the Raptors game. This was a big regular season game. And when the stakes are high, as usual, Kyrie was huge. Kyrie scored 27 points and dished out a career-high 18 assists. He also hit the 2 biggest shots of the game late to secure the victory and remind everyone that he stands alone at the top of the NBA when it comes to hitting clutch shots in winning time.
Irving followed up that big performance with another huge 38 point and 11 assist night against the Grizzlies on Friday, in a game that was close throughout and all 28 of Kyrie’s points in the second half were hugely important. Kyrie did all that on 14-21 shooting, including 6-9 from 3. He also hit another dagger 3 with 1:22 left in the 4th quarter to seal this one. When the man is locked in, there is no defense in the world that can stop him. Highlights below:
But Kyrie was not done this week. On Saturday and the second of a back to back, Kyrie had another 30 point game, going for 32 points on 11-19 shooting against the Hawks in a close win where the Celtics were losing for almost the entire game. There is nothing Kyrie can do that will surprise me anymore, but when he has games like these and is in a rhythm there is no one more mesmerizing and purely entertaining to watch in the world. Every buckets is different. He hits you from all 3 levels of the court. The finishes around the rim are so difficult and with so much class and touch. Kyrie is truly a treasure and maybe the most skilled player to ever play the game. He ended the week shooting 36-59 good for 61% on the week and 12-20 from 3. Just wait for playoff Kyrie…
Luke Kennard had maybe his best week as a pro for the Detroit Pistons this week. Kennard’s minutes have fluctuated throughout the season as the Pistons try to find the right combination of players and playing time to go alongside the core of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson (maybe). This week Kennard got good minutes and put up double figures in all games, scoring 10 on Monday, 14 on Wednesday, 22 on Friday, and 19 on Saturday. Kennard shot 57% on the week including 11-19 from 3.
This could be some good momentum to try to build off for a second year player on a team that desperately needs perimeter scoring. Kennard could and should be that guy on a team that draws a lot of attention in the paint with Drummond and Griffin down low. The team seems to have trust in him to let him take as many as 17 shots in a game which is good, but he is still mostly coming off the bench and will have to earn his shots and playing time with good play throughout the season. Definitely a positive step forward this week though for Kennard.
Injury Report – Wendell Carter Jr. and Tyus Jones
Wendell Carter’s season may be unexpectedly done after this week. Wendell injured his thumb on Tuesday at the Lakers, was said to be day to day after an X-ray and MRI, but on Friday a follow-up examination on the injured left thumb revealed ligament damage which will require surgery and roughly an 8-12 week recovery. Carter has started all 44 games he has played in for the Bulls this season and has averaged 10.3 PPG and 7 rebounds. He has been regarded as one of the top defenders on the Bulls and one of the few bright spots on the season for the Bulls who will be drafting in the lottery.
Also on Tuesday Tyus Jones had what is being called a severe high left ankle sprain. Jones stepped on TJ McConnell’s foot going to the rim and rolled the ankle badly. It is unclear what the timetable is for Jones being back, but every roll of the ankle is cause for concern in a sport where it can happen so easily.
Deep Dive – Brandon Ingram – Lakers without LeBron
I have to say it. It was not a great week for Brandon Ingram. It has now been 13 games for the Lakers without LeBron James and the Lakers have gone 5-8 in that stretch which isn’t terrible. Ingram this past week (not including Monday night) scored 16, 8, and 21 points which is just mehhhh. For Duke fans and Laker fans, there were a lot of people that were hoping that Brandon Ingram, the former #2 pick, could pick up his play in the absence of LeBron and show his growth as a player and that in his 3rd season as a pro, he can be a big time scorer, a 20 point per game scorer, that can carry the load for an NBA team for at least stretches. Not only has that not been the case, but over these games it has really been Kyle Kuzma who has emerged as the Lakers best player in the absence of LeBron. The debate over who the Lakers second best player is seems to be over and it’s not Brandon Ingram.
Here are the stats. In the 13 games without LeBron, Ingram is averaging 17.8 PPG on 45.8% shooting. On the season Ingram is averaging 16.3 PPG on 46.6% shooting. This is pretty shocking. Ingram is a scorer and LeBron commands so much of the offense when he is playing that it can diminish the production of players around him who have to take a back seat to a very ball dominant, best player on the planet. Without that guy the number 2 and 3 scorers on the team should be relishing their time to shine and primed to go off and show what they are capable of when given more shots. Ingram’s numbers seem to show that it doesn’t matter whether LeBron is playing or not. How is that possible?
Here is the problem with Brandon Ingram: He does not get easy buckets. And he is not making 3-pointers.
Ingram has not hit multiple 3s in a game since Nov. 23rd! Ingram is not a great shooter who can hang around the perimeter and rack up points by just hitting 3s, as Kuzma has been able to do. At Duke Ingram would let it fly from 3, but with his slow release, Ingram is not getting off many looks, and even when he is, he is hitting only 29.7% of them. He also is not really explosive enough to get by defenders with consistency to finish at the rim or draw a foul. Everything Ingram gets seems to be difficult. He has all the tools to score but just is not elite at one specific thing. He ends up in ISO situations where he has to shoot a spinning tough fade away 2 pointer way too often. While this shot is somewhat unguardable, it is also not a super high percentage shot.
You see the difference with Ingram and Kuzma. Kuzma has a quicker release and a more pure 3 point shot. Kuzma is hitting multiple 3s almost every game and has a few where he has gotten hot from deep. When he gets it going from 3 he can start putting up big numbers in a way that Ingram just cannot. Both are pretty good in the mid-range and getting to the rim, Ingram maybe a little bit better, but the 3-point shot is a major differentiating factor in their games.
It is still unclear when LeBron will be back for the Lakers, but after 13 games it is safe to say that at least right now in his 3rd season, Ingram is not ready to be a 20 point scorer in the NBA. He still has a lot of room to improve as a scorer and luckily he is only 21 years old so he has time to get better. Ingram will still make a ton of money in the league, but his lack of 3-point shot looks like it might prevent him from being a real big time scorer consistently in the league.
Oddly, this stretch for Ingram might increase his chances of staying a Laker. If Ingram can’t show that he can be a consistent leading scorer in the league, his trade value goes down and now any trade the Lakers make for say an Anthony Davis will likely have to include Kuzma, but possibly not Ingram.