In sports, timing can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what side players or teams end up on. Game-winning plays are made on key decisions both on and off the court, however, it’s not just the decisions themselves that have an impact, but their timing as well.
Brandon Ingram sat out the previous 10 games largely due to a right hamstring injury and was cleared to return against the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Lakers. It seemed coincidental that he made his return against the team that not only sent him to New Orleans, but it also came at a moment where the game itself had postseason ramifications.
With the way things turned out, it’s safe to say that Ingram came back with a vengeance.
The North Carolina native led the New Orleans Pelicans with 26 points in 26 minutes, leading his team back from a 23-point deficit in a crucial 116-108 win over the Lakers. Although he missed both of his 3-point attempts, it didn’t matter as he had his way around the porous Laker defense, scoring on a bevy of moves that clearly had the Lakers searching for answers. His contributions not only allowed them to supplant the Lakers for the ninth spot in the standings, but it gives them a puncher’s chance of even overtaking the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth seed.
Other teams certainly have championship aspirations this season, but the Pelicans have simply been trying to return to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. Ingram’s return could turn those dreams into a reality.
Throughout his career, Ingram’s health has been his greatest menace so far as he is on pace to play 57 games this season barring any rest days. Since playing 79 games in his rookie year, he has played no more than 62 games in the five succeeding seasons. Various injuries have been the primary culprit, but it’s remarkable to see that he has continued to develop his game in spite of the missed time. With his performance today, it’s nice to see that he’s starting to tear down some narratives and build new ones.
Unlike Giannis Antetokounmpo or Ja Morant, Ingram’s game is more finesse than brute force. It should allow him to age gracefully even with the injury history he has had. His ability to glide through defenses, coupled with his physical gifts, make him a tough cover on any given night – when healthy. With the way he plays, it’s easy to say that he gets by on his talent alone, but considering the improvements in his numbers and performance year-on-year, it’s a testament to the hard work the former Duke Blue Devil has put in during the offseason and how he has maximized the game reps given to him.
Defenses have had to be more attuned to Ingram and his growing game, and the greatest form of respect an opponent can have for a player is when the opposing team’s defensive game plan is curtailed (even if mostly) to his or her abilities.
All of this, of course, comes as the roster has gone through some changes. The addition of CJ McCollum gives him a playmaker to play off and the fact that they combined for 11 assists in the win over the Lakers only adds further credence to how much more multifaceted the Pelicans’ attack will be moving forward. With no Zion Williamson for the rest of the season, you have to wonder how New Orleans will mesh as a team, but if things work out according to plan they could join the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves or even (and yes, this is a best-case scenario) the Memphis Grizzlies.
Any hopes for a deep New Orleans Pelicans run may likely be far-fetched, but Brandon Ingram’s return could spark a good end to the 2021-2022 season. The timing may not be right for this season, but it could set Ingram and the Pelicans up for a great 2022-2023 once they get things (and a certain Zion Williamson) back together.