No. 1: Is Ingram the next big star in LA? — These are enthusiastic times in Los Angeles regarding the Lakers. They have Luke Walton as head coach, they no longer need to deal with the Kobe retirement tour, and the draft fetched Brandon Ingram, the promising forward from Duke who should pay immediately, or at least the Lakers hope. He’s the most anticipated rookie since Kobe if only because the Lakers are awaiting the next star and also coming off a poor season that led to the draft lottery. Here’s Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times going full cuddle on Ingram:
In his first and only season at Duke, the kid shot 46% on two-pointers, 41% on three-pointers, both figures which would have led all Lakers playmakers last season. Throw in the kind of defensive havoc that a 7-foot-3 wingspan can cause and you’ll understand how even cool hand Luke Walton got excited.
“We got the player I wanted in the draft,” said Walton at a buzzing Lakers training facility. “I don’t know if he’s the best or not, but we got the player I wanted, for sure.”
Oh, he’s the best. The majority of scouts who follow these things agreed. The sly smile on General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s face agreed. The perception was even shared by the crowd of Lakers season-ticket holders sitting on folding chairs watching a giant TV on the facility’s gym floor, as they cheered loudly before Ingram was even picked.
They were cheering because the Philadelphia 76ers, picking first, went for the glitz selection of Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons. Many of them then erupted in a standing ovation when the obvious pick of Ingram was next.
“We felt we’d be very lucky to get Brandon into this organization,” said Kupchak.
The celebratory mood was in contrast to the defensiveness that permeated the organization last June when the Lakers shrugged off the natural No. 2 pick of Jahlil Okafor and instead reached for D’Angelo Russell. In some ways, they’re still reaching for Russell, trying to connect with him, and this pick of Ingram may lead them to eventually trade him for a stabilizing veteran if they feel a core of Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle is their future.
“We’re going to stress competition here, and we’re going to compete,” said Walton. “And if that means a young guy we’re developing isn’t playing the way he should be, then he’s got to come out of the game.”
Or out of the organization? Stay tuned. For now, the Lakers are thrilled to add a player who, unlike Russell last year, played bigger as the games became bigger, growing from an early benching to playing 119 out of a possible 120 minutes in three NCAA tournament games, averaging 23 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“We’re picking a player that played at, some might say, a very established college basketball program,” said Kupchak with a grin, the former North Carolina star taking his usual draft-day shot at Duke. “And he played big minutes in an excellent league with excellent competition
The Lakers love Ingram’s maturity, which was in evidence from the first answer he gave as a Laker, saying on national TV that he wanted to bring leadership to the team. The young Lakers could certainly use some of that, and while it’s unlikely an 18-year-old kid can lead anyone right now, it’s revealing that he aspires to do so.
“You need leadership, you need cohesiveness, you need energy, and everything I’ve heard about this kid, he brings all those to the table along with his skill set,” said Walton.
The biggest hindrance is his weight, which is officially 190 pounds, which unofficially makes him look downright reed-like even though he’s reportedly gained nearly 30 pounds in the last year. He’s always been thin, and the target of jokes because of it. When he was growing up in Kinston, a town of about 22,000 in eastern North Carolina, he was so thin he could barely wear his souvenir Duke jersey. Even today, he hears it all the time, including immediately after being drafted when his first interviewer called him “Skinny.”
“I think it just gives me motivation to show these guys that the skinny part doesn’t matter,” said the quiet Ingram in a conference call with Los Angeles reporters. “It got me here today … and being skinny didn’t mean nothing when I was battling with each and every guy, each and every night.”
No. 2: Bucks still defending Maker decision — The Milwaukee Bucks rolled the biggest pair of dice on draft night when they used the 10th pick to select seven-footer Thon Maker, a human question mark, as far as the average NBA fan is concerned. Bucks coach Jason Kidd and GM John Hammond believe Maker, in time, will become a solid player if not a star with the Bucks, even though his name wasn’t a prominent one prior to the draft. He grew upin South Sundan and then Australian before coming to the States and impressed the Bucks during his workout. Here’s Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel with more clues:
Maker wasn’t even in ESPN international expert Fran Fraschilla’s top five international players.
“The reason why is he’s neither fish nor fowl,” Hammond said. “He wasn’t an international player; he wasn’t a college player. He was the only high school player in this year’s draft.”
Hammond said when Maker worked out for the Bucks a few weeks ago, he stayed around after the six-man session and went through drills with some of the Bucks coaches for another hour and 45 minutes.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be able to draft him, but we got in the car and I said, ‘Thon, if you get drafted, you just got a taste of what’s going to happen with you.’
“The blueprint is real simple. It’s called hard work and it’s going to happen here in this gym. He’s willing to do it; that’s the most important thing.”
Hammond said the Bucks explored moving up in the draft but decided they had to give up too much to do that. Published reports said Boston was seeking deals with multiple teams, trying to get shooters or scorers, and Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker were Bucks players named as sought by the Celtics.
Maker played for two schools in Ontario, spending last season at the Athlete Institute Academy in Mono. Earlier he played for Orangeville Prep and was a teammate of Kentucky recruit Jamal Murray, who was selected seventh overall by Denver on Thursday.
“He’s really multifaceted,” Hammond said. “At 7 feet tall, he has the ability to handle the ball more effectively than you realize. He has good vision with the ball.
“The fact he shoots it makes it extra exciting. His experience is limited but I think he does have a pretty good feel for the game.”
Hammond said the age controversy did not affect the Bucks’ interest at all.
“Look, he’s 19 years old,” Hammond said. “We’ve been through this before with international players at times. Sometimes guys are questioned on age. It’s tough. You look at Thon Maker coming from the South Sudan and there are difficult situations.
“But we’re comfortable with who he is and what he is.”
In the evolving NBA, what position will he play?
“We’re going to figure it out,” Hammond said. “I don’t know. You have a vision.
“Could you ever imagine, three years down the line when we’re moving toward becoming a championship-caliber team, could you see having Giannis and Jabari and Thon at the floor at one time?
“I think it has a chance to be pretty dynamic and I don’t know who is playing what position, but hopefully we’re going to be pretty good doing it.”
No. 3: Rose sounds off — The biggest trade of the summer so far is Derrick Rose going to the Knicks, and in a hard-to-please city, the news was met with mostly positive reviews. So Rose has conquered one demand, at least for the short term. But what does he think about the Knicks, especially after leaving his hometown Bulls? KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune found out:
“It still don’t feel real,” Rose said in New York. “Driving in and seeing my picture on a billboard or a screen outside the building, it kind of blew me away a little bit. It probably won’t hit me until I step on the floor and put a uniform on.”
“Chicago is more than just like a home. It grew me into the man I am today,” Rose said. “All my family and friends are back there. It’s one of the reasons why I changed my number to 25.”
That’s Rose’s number from Simeon Career Academy, the high school that officially retired it in 2009 to honor the late Ben Wilson. Previously, Simeon’s best player, including Rose, wore it to honor Wilson.
Now, the Knicks, who acquired Rose in Wednesday’s stunning, five-player trade, hope Rose becomes one of their best players.
“I feel like I’m great right now,” Rose said. “I felt like the only thing I was missing was my rhythm. … Last year, I feel I had a hell of a year coming off three injuries. And I think it’s only going to get better.”
Rose, who once famously said he’d roll with Keith Bogans as his running mate at shooting guard, served as a tepid participant in the Bulls’ recruiting pitch to Carmelo Anthony in 2014. After his first trade and fresh start with a new franchise, Rose said he likely would change his approach to recruiting players. And he started with a passionate pitch to Joakim Noah, with whom he partied Thursday night in New York.
“I want him,” Rose said. “He knows that. I think his family knows that. I think everyone knows that.”
Rose raised eyebrows last fall when, in unsolicited fashion, he raised his 2017 free agency on the first day of Bulls training camp. Though he often has been linked to returning to Los Angeles, where he makes his offseason home, Rose sounded committed to the Knicks.
“I hope I’ll be able to play the rest of my career here,” he said.
Rose clearly sounded like someone who had moved from cherishing the ability to play in his hometown to getting worn down by the burden. Now, looking odd in Knicks blue, he has a fresh start.
“I don’t hold any grudges with the front office or anybody in Chicago,” he said. “I loved all the teammates I had there. … I don’t know why I was traded. But I would like to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ For real. Giving me another start, I’m grateful to be where I’m at.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Suns are big on Dragan Bender and suspect he can get big minutes right away on a front court that’s as thin as he is … The Nuggets are telling third-year pro Gary Harris not to worry, he’s the starting two-guard this season … Remember, the Jazz are still a developing team, so it’s small steps for them until a franchise player arrives, and no such player is coming from the draft … Remember when the Pistons drew a few scattered thousand fans per game and routinely missed the playoffs, like a few years ago? Well, incoming Pistons rookies have nothing but good things to say about the franchise.