If the NBA draft unfolds as expected Thursday, the Lakers will pluck the player to fill Kobe Bryant’s spot.
It’s in the positional sense only — let’s not get carried away comparing someone with a 20-year NBA career to a college freshman — but the Lakers are in need of a small forward and might have one fall into their lap.
The Philadelphia 76ers have promised Louisiana State freshman Ben Simmons he’ll be the top overall pick, according to multiple reports, so the Lakers will lean heavily toward Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick.
His soft touch was a key reason Ingram averaged 17.3 points in his one college season, shooting 41% from three-point range and making 80 three-pointers, 79 more than Simmons.
The Lakers liked Ingram’s tenacity on the court, especially during a loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils were out of the game early in the second half but Ingram continued to show feistiness at both ends of the court and finished with 24 points. He scored 69 points in three NCAA tournament games.
The one well-documented issue with Ingram is his weight. He was listed at 190 pounds at Duke, not enough for a 6-foot-9 player to withstand the daily rigors of the NBA.
Ingram didn’t seem concerned about it when interviewed by The Times toward the end of his college career in March.
“I just look back and see how I put on 20 pounds when I first came here and know that I have another off-season to put on more weight,” Ingram said. “I know I’m dedicated to doing that but what people don’t see is I’m not just a twig. I’m actually pretty strong.”
He invites the comparison to Kevin Durant, who was rail-thin at Texas and is now listed at 240 pounds as a perennial All-Star for Oklahoma City.
Ingram’s favorite team is the Thunder and his favorite player is Durant, after whom he patterned his game while growing up.
Ingram isn’t afraid to make unpopular choices — he opted for Duke instead of North Carolina while growing up in Tar Heel-crazed Kinston, N.C.
His style makes sense for the Lakers under new Coach Luke Walton, who was unable to talk specifically about Ingram or other amateur players because of NBA rules.
“We’re going to play an up-tempo game. We’re going to bring in another top draft pick this year, and hopefully get a solid player at 32, and we have money to spend,” on free agents, Walton said Tuesday, summarizing what he considered a positive future for the Lakers.
The Lakers also have the 32nd overall pick Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Lakers defied conventional wisdom a year ago in the same draft position, passing up Duke center Jahlil Okafor to select Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell with the second pick. The big-picture results are still unclear on both players.
Russell messed up team chemistry after his surreptitious Nick Young video leaked on the Internet while Okafor had off-court altercations with fans and eventually underwent season-ending knee surgery in March.
Stats-wise, Okafor had the bigger impact, averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds to Russell’s 13.2 points and 3.3 assists.
The 76ers, though, have openly tried to trade Okafor because of a logjam of big men on their roster. Simmons is a power forward, assuming they indeed draft him, and they also have young center-forwards Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.