2020 Free Agency

Free Agent Film Study: Brandon Ingram

Breaking down the 5 key skills restricted free agent Brandon Ingram brings to the floor.

Brandon Ingram stepped up his game during his first season with New Orleans.

Brandon Ingram has good timing.

In the final year of his rookie contract and set to become a restricted free agent, Ingram had a breakout season upon landing in New Orleans as part of the Anthony Davis trade. The 23 year old saw big jumps in his boxscore stats, while also seeing a jump in efficiency for a third straight season.

The breakout earned Ingram his first All-Star selection, the 2019-20 Kia Most Improved Player award, and, likely, a big second contract. Zion Williamson is the centerpiece in New Orleans, but Ingram has established himself as viable primary option on offense.

Ingram’s improvement through his first three seasons was pretty linear, but he became a different player last season. Primarily, he became a much better shooter. After registering an effective field goal percentage of 41.9% on shots from outside the paint in his final season with the Lakers, Ingram had a mark of 52.6% in his first season with the Pelicans.

Part of that was better shooting. Ingram shot much better, both from mid-range and from 3-point range. The other part was that he more than tripled his ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts.

Brandon Ingram shooting from outside the paint

Mid-Range 3-point range
2016-17 68 183 37.2% 55 187 29.4% 1.02
2017-18 91 221 41.2% 41 105 39.0% 0.48
2018-19 70 185 37.8% 31 94 33.0% 0.51
2019-20 105 243 43.2% 150 384 39.1% 1.58

He still ranked 14th in the league with 243 mid-range attempts, which accounted for 22% of his shots, not a big reduction from 25% the previous season. The big reduction came in the percentage of Ingram’s shots that came in the paint, from 62% in 2018-19 to 43% in ’19-20. And with that came a reduction in free throw rate, from 39.6 to 33.6 attempts per 100 shots from the field.

But the 3-pointers made up for that. Ingram took 35.0% of his shots from 3-point range, up from 12.9% in 2018-19. That was the fifth biggest jump among 218 players with at least 250 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons. His field goal percentage actually went down (from 49.7% to 46.3%), but his effective field goal percentage (from 51.8% to 53.1%) and true shooting percentage (from 55.5% to 58.7%) both went up.

Despite the drop in paint shots and free throws, Ingram was still one of just nine players who averaged at least eight points in the paint, eight points on shots from outside the paint, and five points from the free throw line.

Here’s a look at 5 key elements to his game …

1. A team in transition

The Pelicans liked to push the ball, and Ingram was their most frequent finisher on the break. He ranked 15th in the league with 4.3 transition possessions per game, according to Synergy play-type tracking. The 1.14 points per possession he scored in transition ranked 25th among 72 players who averaged at least 2.5 transition possessions per game.

Transition allows Ingram to get downhill and use his length at the rim, like he did late in the second quarter in a bubble game against the Grizzlies …

Ingram in transition

The Pelicans didn’t just push off of missed shots and live-ball turnovers, and Ingram didn’t just go to the hoop in transition. New Orleans led the league (by a wide margin) with 19.2 “pass-ahead” passes per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking. And 41% of Ingram’s shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock came from 3-point range. He shot 33-for-75 (44.0%) on those early-clock 3-pointers, the 12th best mark among 70 players who attempted at least 50.

Late in the fourth quarter of that same game against Memphis, Ingram got a quick 3 after a Grizzlies bucket via a pass ahead from Jrue Holiday …

Ingram 3-pointer in transition

Early offense is generally good offense (league-wide effective field goal percentage is highest in the first six seconds of the clock), but not all early shots are good shots. Here’s Ingram launching a step-back, 20-footer with 18 on the clock …

Ingram step-back jumper

Transition layup? Great. Open 3 off the catch? OK. Long, step-back 2 when you have plenty of time to get a better shot? Not good. There was a game in March where Williamson had barely touched the ball through the first 4 1/2 minutes and Ingram launched a pull-up 3 in transition rather than looking to move the ball and get the rookie involved.

Whether or not Ingram is back in New Orleans, it will be interesting to see how fast the Pelicans play next season. They ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of Alvin Gentry’s four seasons as head coach, but new coach Stan Van Gundy has never had a team in the top 10 in pace. In fact, his last seven teams (all four in Detroit and the last three in Orlando) have ranked in the bottom 10.

2. Getting his own

Ingram ranked 13th in the NBA with 3.1 isolation possessions per game. And his efficiency on those (0.96 points per possession) was better than league average (0.91), but down a bit from ’18-19 (1.00 on 2.7 possessions per game).

He did see an improvement in pick-and-roll ball-handler efficiency, from 0.79 to 0.90 points per possession (a tick above the league average of 0.88).

Only 68 (19%) of Ingram’s 360 pull-up jumpers were 3-pointers, but that was a big jump from ’18-19, when only five (2%) of his 245 pull-up jumpers came from beyond the arc. So he was able to occasionally make defenders pay for going under the screen …

Ingram pull-up 3-pointer

Ingram remains most comfortable in the mid-range, and he’s capable of making some tough shots …

Ingram tough jumper

3. Making plays

He’s also capable of making plays for others, though he’s not the most prolific dime-dropper. Ingram recorded assists on 15.3% of his possessions, up from 13.5% in ’18-19, but a rate which ranked 27th among 41 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.

If he stays in New Orleans, his chemistry with Williamson will be critical to the Pelicans’ success. Overall, the Pelicans were a disappointment in the season restart. But they had some moments …

Ingram-Williamson pick-and-roll

Ingram had 23 assists to Williamson in their 408 minutes on the floor together last season. That rate of 2.0 assists per 36 minutes on the floor together was the highest Ingram had to any teammate.

As a big wing, Ingram can also get into the post, draw attention, and find shooters …

Ingram post-up assist

4. Working off the ball

The biggest improvement in Ingram’s play-type numbers came off the ball. According to Synergy, Ingram scored 0.88 points per possession on 2.5 “spot-up” possessions per game in ’18-19. Last season, he scored 1.12 on 4.8 per game.

Ingram was a beneficiary of the Pelicans’ movement. According to Second Spectrum tracking, New Orleans led the league in player movement (12.2 miles per 24 minutes of possession) and ranked second in ball movement (383 passes per 24 minutes of possession).

In a system like that, a player like Ingram can know that he’ll get the ball back after giving it up …

Ingram relocate 3

Ingram shot 42.0% on 300 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season, up from 31.5% on just 89 attempts in ’18-19. That kind of improvement will get defenders closing out harder, which just opens up driving lanes …

Ingram drive past Davis

5. Defense

There are two ends of the floor, of course. The Pelicans were not a good defensive team, and Ingram was not innocent in regard to their issues on that end of the floor. An early-March game between the Pelicans (fighting for a playoff spot) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (missing their best player and out of contention) was one of the worst combined defensive performances you’ll ever see.

This was the first possession …

Easy basket for Hernangomez

The Pelicans’ last chance to save their season was a bubble game against Sacramento, and they allowed 140 points on 102 defensive possessions, with Ingram getting bullied in the post by Harrison Barnes multiple times

Barnes backs down Ingram

The tools are there, though. Ingram is long, and he has solid off-ball awareness. Here he makes an off-ball “scram” switch onto Kristaps Porzingis, who’s trying to take Lonzo Ball into the post …

Ingram scram switch

The Pelicans’ defensive issues were mostly about a collective lack of focus, effort and cohesion. Ingram can certainly be a part of improvement in New Orleans, or a part of a solid defense anywhere else in the league.

What’s the price? What’s the fit?

Size is key on defense, and as their roster stands, Ingram is the only size the Pelicans have on the wings. That’s just one reason it seems doubtful that New Orleans will let him go in restricted free agency. He just turned 23 years old, and while it’s possible that last season’s 3-point shooting was a little fluky, Ingram still has room to grow. He can become a better playmaker, a better defender, and he can eliminate some of those early-clock, tunnel-vision step-backs.

Though there isn’t much intrigue in regard to with whom Ingram signs, it will be interesting to see what the price tag is. Two years ago, Zach LaVine (23 at the time) re-signed with the Bulls for $78 million over four years in restricted free agency. Last year, Malcolm Brogdon went to Indiana in a sign-and-trade, with a contract worth $85 million over four seasons. Neither of those guys was an All-Star.

There’s also the question of how well Ingram and the 20-year-old Williamson fit together long-term. There have been times when they look like a dangerous pick-and-roll combination, and there have been times when Williamson has been relegated to the role of bystander as Ingram does his own thing.

There hasn’t been enough of the latter to think it can’t work. But, assuming the MIP returns to New Orleans, the ability of Ingram and Williamson to bring out the best in each other will be under the microscope going forward.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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