Don’t let Brandon Ingram’s nonchalant demeanor fool you; he’s a killer on the basketball court.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves rallying back to tie the game at 125, the stage was set for Ingram and the New Orleans Pelicans to get the final shot of the game. Ingram had only missed one 3-pointer so far and was the focal point of the Wolves’ defense on the final possession. It didn’t really matter in the end as the ball naturally found its way to the 24-year old.
The former Duke Blue Devil’s game-winner punctuated a hard-fought win for the Pelicans, which had lost three out of its last four games since Ingram’s return from managing soreness in his left Achilles. It was a back-and-forth affair between New Orleans and Minnesota, and closing out a game like this certainly bodes well for a franchise whose wins have been hard to come by.
Ingram led all scorers with 33 points and made six of his seven three-point attempts. He also finished with a team-high nine assists, taking what the defense was giving him and helping the Pelicans finish with 33 assists.
The maturation process continues for the 2019-2020 Most Improved Player, who began his NBA career as a wide-eyed yet highly-regarded teenager, who joined the Los Angeles Lakers just as the late great Kobe Bryant retired. Shooting woes and questions on his fit with the roster hounded him in his first few years in the league, but a trade to New Orleans, which brought Anthony Davis to the Lakers, changed his fortunes.
Ingram has yet to have a winning record with any of his teams, but his stint with the Pelicans has allowed the rest of the league to see why he was in the discussion for the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. In three seasons with New Orleans, he has averaged 23.6 points (on .461/.380/.855 shooting splits), 5.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists, numbers that show he can do a little bit of everything.
The development of Ingram is not just in the increasing numbers; how the Kinston, North Carolina native gets his points speaks to his growth as a franchise player. Ingram’s offensive game is built on his midrange shot, which allows him to create driving lanes and 3-point opportunities.
In his early years with the Lakers, he would go to his midrange shots, but these were usually ill-advised takes as defenses knew that he was too frail to attack the basket and his 3-point shooting was not even something to worry about. If he did draw fouls, his sub par free-throw shooting (66.2 percent in three seasons with Los Angeles) made it feel like sending him to the free-throw line was actually a defensive stop in itself. There were certainly high points during his Laker stint, and the flashes of promise did not disappoint.
His move to the Pelicans, however, saw him work on his body by adding more strength and working on his free-throw shooting. The results spoke for themselves as he averaged 23.8 points in his first two seasons, making at least 46.3 percent of his shots and at least 38.1 percent of his 3-point attempts. The drives to the basket? They now came at a price as he would make more than 85 percent of his free throw attempts.
Efficiency was admittedly never Ingram’s strong suit for much of his NBA career, but the current drop in his shooting percentages could be due to the heavier load he has had to shoulder with Zion Williamson still recovering from surgery to repair a fractured right foot he suffered in the offseason. This doesn’t discount the fact that the 2020 NBA All-Star has stepped up admirably with his teammate out, but it also shows the extra coverage he has to face with Williamson out.
Durability has unfortunately been the perennial issue with Ingram, as he has never played more than 62 games in his career. In fact, those 62 games came during the 2019-2020 season, when the games were halted just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck and later resumed in the Orlando bubble. Missing at least nine games so far in six seasons makes one wonder how Ingram can manage his body better as he ages. His talent guarantees him a long career, but following through on that potential requires a sound body.
Questions on whether Brandon Ingram can take over or perhaps help in leading a franchise should be put to rest considering the body of work he has had so far with the New Orleans Pelicans. The playoffs continued to elude Ingram, and with New Orleans experiencing a playoff drought themselves, it’s now on them to create an environment that can help both them and Ingram achieve their common desires.