All things considered, this season hasn’t been especially fun in New Orleans. It started with Zion Williamson tearing the meniscus muscle in his knee and undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair it. From there they stumbled out of the regular season gate, winning just seven of their first 30 games. Even after their latest victory over the Sacramento Kings — their sixth in the last eight outings — it’s been a turbulent season in The Big Easy. Fortunately, one thing has stood out and induced mountains of hope: Brandon Ingram and his improvement in almost every category.
After the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him with the second pick in the 2016 draft, Ingram sputtered his way through an inconsistent tenure in Hollywood. The flashes of brilliance were always there, but he never strung them together long enough to believe he was going to be the superstar his pre-draft status suggested. With LeBron James in the twilight of his illustrious career and recruiting fellow All-Star Anthony Davis to La La Land, Ingram was left as an odd man out this summer. Subsequently, he was traded to the Pelicans for Davis and afforded a fresh start outside of the media and scrutiny bubble that is Los Angeles.
While it seemed damning that James and the Lakers brass had given up on him, the move to New Orleans has revived the 22-year-old. Through 36 games, he is putting up 24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per night, all of which are at or nearing career-highs. Even with the usage uptick that comes with escaping the daunting shadow of LeBron, he is hitting a very respectable 48.1 percent of his shots overall and a career-high 40.1 percent from downtown. Hugely impressive numbers no matter what lens you look through.
Ingram could have easily improved one or two aspects of his game and became a legitimately valuable player for the Pelicans, but that wasn’t enough for him. He decided to expand each and every part of his game. Now, he looks every bit a star and seems to still be improving by the night.
The first thing that jumps off the stat sheet when you examine Ingram’s improvement is his newfound ability to be a weaponized shooter. He did shoot a respectable 39 percent from deep last season, but that came on just 1.8 attempts per game. Even with James, one of the greatest passers of all time, playing beside him, he was often reluctant to shoot open triples and preferred to use his length and size to get into the paint or pull up for mid-range jumpers.
This season, he is more than willing to launch a long-ball at any chance he gets. And he is knocking them down, too. As aforementioned, he is hitting 40.1 percent of the 5.8 triples he is putting up per game. No longer is he settling for wide-open triples when they are the only option. He is shot-ready and shot-willing all the time.
Below is the old Ingram. He takes the hand-off from Lonzo Ball, who has knocked Andrew Wiggins out of the play with a screen and attacks the mid-range. With Karl-Anthony Towns deep in drop coverage, Ingram would have had an open triple had he set his feet and been willing to launch. Instead, it ends with a mid-range jumper that clanks off the cylinder.
This is the new Brandon Ingram. After he receives the hand-off from Derrick Favors, he squares his body and feet, notices that Nikola Jokic doesn’t want to come all the way out to guard him and risk getting blown by and makes him pay. Using the Joker’s extended arm as a crosshair for the pretty looking jumper.
As well as excelling as a spot-up shooter in hand-off situations and improving as a pull-up shooter out of the pick-and-roll game, he is finding open corner looks and knocking them down at a scorching 40.8 percent. All around, it’s been a stark contrast to last season.
He hasn’t completely rid his game of that tendency to be a mid-range merchant but one can argue that’s a good thing. When kept in check and limited to good looks only, Ingram has been terrorizing defenses from the in-between level. He is shooting fewer shots than ever before from between 10 feet and the 3-point line, but he is finishing at a career-high 44.8 percent. With his effectiveness skyrocketing, the former Laker no longer looks timid to attack or to make his move instinctually. He is decisive and backs himself no matter what the end result may be.
Head coach Alvin Gentry has endured plenty of criticism for his team’s slow start, but he should be praised for the confidence he has instilled in his new number one option. Watch here as he sizes up All-NBA defender Robert Covington and nails the jumper in his face.
With Ingram’s offensive firepower soaring by the game, don’t be surprised to see him hovering around the top of the scoring charts and edging closer to a maiden All-Star appearance.
Driving and Ball-Handling Improvement
The way Brandon Ingram gets the space he needs to bang triple after triple is his modernized ball-handling ability and penchant for getting to the rim and finishing strong. He is shooting more long-bombs, so his frequency of shots at the rim has gone down, but his efficiency from within three feet has stayed at a pleasing 67.6 percent.
In his time with Los Angeles, his handle was far too high and out of control. He was consistently dribbling the ball above waist height, forbidding him from attacking the rim with the calm control that is needed to be an elite scorer in the NBA. When you’re as skinny as Ingram has been since entering the league, this kind of ball-handling is simply untenable.
Now, while it’s still far from perfect, that handle has become lower and tighter. This allows him to move with the ball on a string and get to the rim much easier. When he gets there, he has learned to go through contact and get to the line, rather than trying to contort around the incoming big.
Here, he easily works his way around Kent Bazemore with that lowered dribble and those huge, bounding strides, before attacking the shot-blocking menace Hassan Whiteside with aplomb.
Perhaps his incredible leap in free throw accuracy has something to do with his willingness to attack the trees guarding the iron. He must have much more confidence to finish the play with two points when his free throw percentage is at 85.7 percent, rather than the 67.5 percent he converted at in 2018-19. It’s still crucial that Ingram continues to bulk up his physique and tighten the screws on his ball-handling ability. But, he has done enough already to make himself a genuine threat at the coalface. He is no longer held back by those flaws and that’s a huge step in the right direction.
As a passer, Brandon Ingram is improving, there is no doubt about that. He is averaging 3.8 assists per game so far, which is just a tick under the career-high 3.9 he put up in his sophomore season. He has recorded over five dimes in five of New Orleans’ last six games. He isn’t a primary playmaker by any means, but he has flashed the consistent potential to become a secondary ball-handler and table-setter.
With Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball taking up the majority of the pick-and-roll ball-handling duties, Ingram is usually used as the pressure valve for kick-outs and cuts. However, he is becoming more and more comfortable handling those obligations. Thus far, he is putting up 0.98 points per possession in all pick-and-roll plays including those that he passes out of. That ranks him in the 68th percentile, per Synergy Sports.
Last season, he was often head down and looking to get his own shot. This season, he is making plays like this far more often.
It’s no coincidence that his assist numbers rising are coinciding with Derrick Favors’ return to heavy minutes. He and Favors seem to have already built rapport that is adding a new dimension to the Pels’ offense. Favors is an excellent and underrated screen-setter and knows exactly when to roll into the open space. This has given Ingram the perfect option to relieve the pressure of swarming defenses.
Hopefully, Ingram can continue to grow in the mold of Kawhi Leonard, who has become a fantastic playmaker after years of being just slightly above-average passing. Right now, the foundations are certainly being laid.
On the other end of the floor, Brandon Ingram has continued to be a solid-yet-unspectacular defender whose long arms and lanky frame can be a deterrent when he is fully locked in. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. He is still a minus in pretty much all advanced metrics, but the eye-test indicates there has been a slight uptick from previous years. Most 22-year-old’s tend to take plays off defensively, especially when they are using so much energy on offense. If Ingram can learn to balance his zest to contribute on both ends he is going to be a two-way monster.
Plays like this should inspire some confidence. Ingram is switched out on to the smaller and shiftier Dennis Schroder, but uses those long strides to keep pace with him and ends up swallowing up his shot and sitting the German on his backside.
More of that, please.
Overall, Brandon Ingram is becoming an awesome player. He has officially evolved from potential-driven to production-laden. He will garner a max deal this summer and should lead the Pelicans to many more wins once he gets Zion Williamson back and firing.
Fun times are on their way to New Orleans. And Brandon Ingram is right in the eye of that storm.