Brandon Ingram is morphing into a star before our very eyes.
With the selection of Zion Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft and the decision to give Brandon Ingram a max contract, the New Orleans Pelicans are banking on the prize of the Anthony Davis haul and their 285-pound bulldozer giving Stan Van Gundy a super young, super talented frontcourt of the future. While Williamson is the more well-known name, it’s actually been Ingram that has been the better scorer over the course of the 2020-21 season.
With Ingram’s defense and passing ability finally starting to catch up with his offense, he is finally starting to move into that elite upper-tier of players, a development that could make New Orleans a contender in the West in short order.
Brandon Ingram on what he needs to do to continue improving his game;
"Just bust everybody's ass. Kill everybody in front of me. Make sure that I don't let anybody off the hook.”
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 10, 2021
Brandon Ingram’s game is improving in all areas, especially as a creator
If Van Gundy realized that Williamson wasn’t going to develop enough of a varied offensive game to take over the featured role on the offense right now, why not just let him dominate in the post against smaller bigs and get someone else, in this case, Ingram, to do the creating.
Ingram has taken to that role with aplomb, averaging a career-best 5.8 assists per game while assisting on 28.5 percent of Pelicans makes this season, a mark that puts him in the 98th percentile among forwards. Considering his incredibly 31.1 percent usage rate, his ability to make incisive passes has been simply astonishing.
He’s made this change without losing any of the scoring ability that made him such a valued commodity. Not only are his 24.0 points slightly above what he was able to do last season, but he is shooting 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from three, which are right in line with his career average.
Ingram’s Pelicans are averaging a robust 115 points per game when he lines up at small forward, a position he plays 64 percent of the time. With Ingram handling both ball-handling and spot-up shooting duties, Zion is free to get isolated inside and use his hulking bulk to go to work and finish off some easy looks. That reciprocal relationship has the Pelicans playing very good basketball of late, and it should set them up for success in the long term if Ingram continues to improve.
Brandon Ingram is becoming a much more efficient player by turning the ball over less
One of Ingram’s problems when he came into the league, exacerbated by the fact that he was drafted to a bad Lakers team that often let him run wild, was the fact that he turned the ball over with regularity. Ingram’s turnover percentage of 10.6 percent sounds high, but it is the best mark of his career and is almost certainly inflated by playing with the ball in his hands so frequently.
Whenever the ball is in Ingram’s hands, Pelicans fans can expect either a quality open look or a sharp kick-out to shooters like Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe, whereas in years past they would have to worry about Ingram going rogue and trying to do too much.
Brandon Ingram has helped the Pelicans improve on defense
Any team coached by Van Gundy is going to live and die on the defensive end, specifically on the interior. While Ingram isn’t going to be matchup up with bruising centers on the inside, his length could make him a matchup nightmare that could guard four of the five positions on the floor if used correctly. While the defensive end was completely neglected under Luke Walton in LA and Alvin Gentry in New Orleans, Van Gundy has challenged Ingram to be a part of the solution on the defensive end, and Ingram has risen to the occasion.
The Pelicans are allowing the fifth-fewest points per game in the league, and New Orleans is allowing 108 points per 100 possessions when Ingram is on the floor. That mark is the best in his young career, and it coincides with a new energy on that end that he hasn’t shown off until this point.
When the rail-thin Ingram was coming out of Duke, everyone with even a cursory knowledge of basketball could see that he had all the tools to be an offensive star in this league. However, given his iffy defense, inability to effectively pass the ball, and propensity for trying to do too much, it was fair to question if he would ever become a true star.
In New Orleans, Ingram has lived up to all of the hype. While the record might not bear it out right now, the Pelicans are building something special on the back of Ingram’s improvement and Zion’s thunder inside. A few more years of production like this could make that original max deal he was handed look like quite a bargin.