Jamal Murray Is Living the Life Brandon Ingram Can’t

In the 2016 NBA draft, Brandon Ingram was selected 2nd and Jamal Murray was selected 7th. Both came from elite programs, Duke and Kentucky respectively. Both were one and done players that were drafted into the Western Conference to teams that didn’t have an All-Star and their respective coaches were new on the job. (Luke Walton had just been hired and Mike Malone had been in Denver one year). So both Murray and Ingram were coming to rebuilding projects and both were saddled with the hashtag #potential.  But even then, the expectations weren’t equal reminding all the NBA isn’t a meritocracy. Ingram was touted as a Kevin Durant 2.0 and Jamal Murray as a combo guard who had to learn how to run a team.

Three years later, it is Jamal Murray who has left Ingram in the dust as Ingram is still a struggling at times player; Murray may be in Charlotte for the All-Star game and he may be in the Western Conference Finals and he is the better player and most importantly, the player you trust to hit a jump shot late, and grab a rebound. (Though 7 inches shorter, Murray out rebounds Brandon Ingram).

However, Ingram gets all the hype because he is in media rich L.A. The downside is Brandon Ingram gets all the angst too, all the he’s overrated and he’s not all that slander.

Jamal Murray is in a league of his own when measured against his draft class. Of the 2016 lottery picks, Murray has played the most NBA games (tied with Buddy Hield). He’s played the most minutes. He has scored the most points. He is second in assists to Ben Simmons. He has the 3rd highest Win Shares, trailing Simmons and Domantis Sabonis. Murray is the player many scouts thought Brandon Ingram would be.

But draft mistakes are common. Michael Jordan taken 3rd. Kobe Bryant taken 13th. Kawhi Leonard taken 15th. All are elite players, all Finals MVP’s.

Its starts with possibilities but for Brandon Ingram, he has never mastered the expectation. He has a nice field goal percentage but it is a binary number skewed because of lay-ins at the rim, but even those lay-ins only go in 51% of the time.  Ingram is a weak jump shooter on a team whose offense is built around the jump shot. He lacks consistency but has an all around game he leans on.

Besides health- Ingram has missed 37 games while Murray has missed 1 game- the biggest difference between lottery picks Ingram and Murray is passion. Ingram has a passive, detached, too cool for school game while Murray is all joy and rapture with a little lot of arrogance and I love me some me attitude.

Murray is more shooting guard than point guard. The league’s best shooting guards over the years have been the most annoying but electric and dynamic players. Murray fits the mold. He never has to be scolded in the media to play hard, as Luke Walton recently chastised Brandon Ingram.

Jamal Murray always plays hard and with fire. He competes and you see it.

___________________________  

The Nuggets won 33 games in 2015-16, the year they selected Murray 7th and even though they were in the lottery, they were light years ahead of the Lakers in their development. Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris were already on the roster. As was Will Barton.

The Lakers roster in Kobe Bryant’s last season, a team that won a sad 17 games, has disintegrated. No players are left who watched Kobe drop 60 against Utah in his final game. They have disappeared to other teams, retirement, or the G-League.

The Lakers have had a farther road to climb than the Nuggets. But then the Lakers won a title in 2010 and the Nuggets last great player wanted a Nuggets divorce. It’s been a seven year life after Carmelo rebuild, assisted by the Nuggets drafting a player with potential who became an elite player (Nikola Jokic). Jokic was a second round pick who has carried the Nuggets, along with Murray, to the best record in the west.

Three years after drafting Ingram, the Lakers are no closer to having an All-Star on their roster, outside of LeBron James, than they were before Ingram arrived. They have drafted good players, but no one great. No one that can’t be packaged and sent somewhere else.

So why did the Lakers miss on Ingram?  I mean, they could have drafted Jamal Murray and in a lot of ways, it would have made sense. On draft night, Mitch Kupchak called Ingram a project.  D’Angelo Russell was on the Lakers roster and they needed a shooting guard to replace Kobe Bryant. Russell and Murray would have been a backcourt combo that could score and Murray’s length would have been an asset on defense.

Murray is a skilled scorer, not in the Bryant way, but he makes threes, he drives to the rim, he has a floater, he makes clutch shots.  He doesn’t have the field goal percentage that Ingram has, he can be terribly inefficient with his scores but he always bangs the drum. ABC. Always. Be. Competing. That’s Jamal Murray. This season he has had (2) 40+ point games, (3) 30+ point games, and only (6) games where he didn’t score 10 points.

Brandon Ingram has amassed (9) 20+ point games but has never cracked 30 or 40 points, and has only had (2) games of scoring less than 10 points. The lazy argument is to rationalize Ingram’s game by pointing out the obvious: he’s playing with LeBron James, a high usage player. In James absence, Ingram is averaging 18 points, two points higher than his 2018-19 norm.

Ingram is an iso player and while Murray can iso at times, he isn’t a ball stopper. The Nuggets offense is predicated on ball movement. Ever since Murray’s arrival, the Nuggets have ranked top-5 in assists. The Lakers, even with LeBron James, are not a top-10 assist team.

Quietly, Ingram has let his feelings leak out. He referenced the upside of not having LeBron James on the court. Of himself, he says he can play his game without LeBron’s micromanagement style. The numbers say he is right. But that game Ingram longs to play, even if it reminds him he is probably a 17-19 ppg player in the league, it doesn’t impact wins. The Lakers are 3-7 without LeBron James and with Brandon Ingram being Brandon Ingram.

___________________________

Last week, when Jamal Murray was victimized by a James Harden crossover and then, to add insult to injury, he fouled Harden on a step-back, it was comical to the Murray haters who see him as a player who was born on third base but thought he hit a triple. Murray lacked respect from day one, his critics say, and it may be true that he loves himself a lot, but it makes the league an interesting place now that Jamal Murray is here, a player who talks plenty of trash, likes to score on people and then taunt them, and is on the best team record wise in the Western Conference.

All of the things they say about the NBA is real. No Boys Allowed. Be tough. Compete. But- and this is the important lesson- get better. Forget your failure. Keep moving towards excellence. Murray has more than passed the test, which, to be fair, is easy when you have Nikola Jokic in the middle.

Murray and Jokic are a great one-two punch that will stabilize the Nuggets for years. Murray is 21 years old and Jokic is 23. If they get to the NBA Finals, they will be the youngest, one-two duo to make it happen.

Before that, though, there is the All-Star game in Charlotte, one that North Carolina native Brandon Ingram can only watch on television. Brandon Ingram doesn’t have All-Star game. He isn’t exceptional. Neither is Jamal Murray exceptional.

Murray’s 2018-19 averages of 18 points and 4 rebounds doesn’t scream All-Star. Klay Thompson had a similar season in his third year, 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and he shot 41% from three and didn’t make the All-Star team.  It has happened to better players than Jamal Murray.

You get the sense if Murray doesn’t make the All-Star team because Damian Lillard and/or DeMar DeRozan are favored by the media and players (Steph and Harden are automatics), he’ll use it as fuel every time he is on the court against the Blazers and Spurs, trying to right the wrong mistake that was made.

That’s the plus side of Jamal Murray. He wants to prove to everyone how great he is. He doesn’t have to prove it to himself. He knows it.

Brandon Ingram has a different reality. It is not just about proving doubters wrong. In a turn of events very few saw coming on draft night in 2016, Brandon Ingram may just have four months left in his Laker career, packaged for a star or a better player.