Win or lose, Brandon Ingram remains committed to his team and craft
Brandon Ingram continues to shake off injuries and a steady stream of losses to remain a model professional in New Orleans.
The persistent losing has bothered Brandon Ingram. So have the injuries keeping both Zion Williamson sidelined and Ingram limited.
But just over a year after agreeing to a five-year, $158-million extension with the New Orleans Pelicans, Ingram maintains he hardly has any buyer’s remorse.
“I’ve made a commitment to New Orleans that I was going to be here for five years and not knowing what was going to come with it,” Ingram told NBA.com. “Of course, I want to always be on the winning side. It’s always frustrating when you lose, you lose and you lose. But I think you find beauty in pushing hard. I’m trying to figure out a way with the group that we have with making each other better every single day.”
Ingram discovered that process has not been seamless.
The Pelicans (6-17) enter Wednesday’s game (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) against the Dallas Mavericks (10-9) with the Western Conference’s second-worst record. After missing seven consecutive games because of a right hip injury, Ingram has been on pace to average his lowest output in New Orleans in points per game (21.4), field-goal percentage (43%) and 3-point shooting (36.5%). And Williamson has not played at all this season while he rehabs a surgically repaired right foot.
To think, it appeared Ingram would soon experience playoff success after spending his first three years on a rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers team that featured a handful of young prospects his first two seasons and LeBron James during his third. After the Lakers dealt Ingram as one of the assets to land Anthony Davis two years ago, Ingram became one of the league’s most intriguing young talents. He became an NBA All-Star. He won the league’s Most Improved Player award. He developed instant chemistry with Williamson.
And now? Ingram enters his third season in New Orleans playing for his third different coach (Willie Green) while familiarizing himself with 10 new teammates, including four rookies.
“Some days it’s been frustrating more than anything,” Ingram said. “But most of the days, I look at it and am like, ‘This game is what created all the opportunities for me in life. What else would I want to put into it?’ I want to put everything into it.”
How has injury affected Ingram’s game?
Ingram could not always just pour everything into his craft. He suffered what he called a muscle strain in his right hip on Oct. 30, an injury that sidelined him for seven games through Nov. 12. Ingram has averaged 19.2 points while shooting 40.1% from the field and 29.3% from deep since his return, a stark drop from what he averaged in six games before the injury in points (25), field-goal percentage (46.5%) and 3-point shooting (45.5%).
“I’m never going to be 100%, but I’m close to it,” Ingram said. “I don’t have anything reoccurring from my hip. I feel pretty good with everything that I’m doing.”
Therefore, Ingram stressed that his low shooting numbers had nothing to do with feeling any limitations in his right hip.
“It’s just a matter now of trying to save my body for every single game, knowing that I’m going to have a lot thrown at me, especially with Zion being out and different guys being in the lineup and trying to figure out who we are,” Ingram said. “Right now, my body feels good. It’s about staying fresh for games every single day.”
How Ingram’s partnership with Green has played out
It’s also about trying to find ways to maximize Ingram’s talents as one of the league’s most skilled wing scorers.
Despite playing in only 16 games this season, Ingram ranks seventh in the NBA on mid-range shots (47-of-115). But Ingram has tried to diversify his approach to account for double teams and defensive schemes. He also wants to score through attacking the basket, drawing fouls and shooting 3’s.
“It has been challenging a little bit,” Ingram said. “I’m trying to figure out a way where I can put in my offense. By me being a decoy, I can make everyone else players on the floor.”
Green has also tried to find answers. He has often stressed to Ingram about needing to play with more aggression at a faster pace consistently.
“He’s figuring it out, too,” Ingram said of Green. “He’s a new coach. He hasn’t been in this position before, but he’s trying to figure out different ways he can get across to guys. He’s done a good job of that.”
Despite Green’s lack of inexperience, he enters his first season with plenty of credentials. Green had varying assistant coach and player development roles with the Phoenix Suns (2019-2021) and the Golden State Warriors (2016-2019), and both teams praised him for how he empowered players with confidence and X’s and O’s insight. Green has credibility after cementing a 12-year NBA career as a dependable role player and shooter. He also played on seven playoff teams.
How does that dynamic play out with Ingram? Green and Ingram often converse during the game, late-night text message threads and film sessions.
“I just hit him on some of the stuff I see on the floor and how we can be better and how the organization can be better,” Ingram said after the Pelicans’ win over the LA Clippers on Monday. “The good thing about it is he gives a good response that I really like.”
Consider the conversation that Ingram and Green recently had on what can be done to address his recent shooting slump. Green described the exchange as “more of me listening than me talking.” The reason had nothing to do with placating his star player, though.
“He said everything that I was thinking. I just confirmed what he was thinking,” Green said. “It was to play a little faster and be patient. ‘The guys are going to look for you. When you have your moments, pick your spots and go to work.’”
To make that happen, those on the Pelicans observe that Ingram has stayed consistent with his practice habits, workout routine and film study.
“He’s a coach’s dream to have on a team,” Green said of Ingram. “He works extremely hard. He listens. He goes out every day and tries to put his best foot forward. He’s a great teammate. And we couldn’t ask to have a better guy like him on our team, especially going through what we’re going through as a team right now.”
How Ingram has tried to stay positive through the losing
That’s because the Pelicans have strongly credited Ingram for two recent developments. New Orleans has won three of its last four games. Even amid the persistent defeats that included a nine-game losing streak, the Pelicans have seen Ingram determined to prod his teammates along with his persistent work ethic and optimism. Green observed that Ingram has also often taken his teammates out to dinner.
“He never gets too high or too low. He just keeps working,” Pelicans rookie forward Herbert Jones said. “It’s basketball, so it won’t be all highs. I’m sure he knows that, of course. But the way he’s been a great teammate on the court and off the court, it’s unbelievable. Seeing him struggle and not produce how he wants to produce, he still shows up every day and can be the same dude.”
How can Ingram be the same dude through losses, shooting slumps and injuries? Ever since the Lakers selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Ingram has found it more productive to pour his emotions into his craft than to express any frustrations outwardly. Young players usually earn more credibility with their performances and work ethic than with anything they say.
But with Ingram in his sixth NBA season, he admitted he has more experience and cache to express himself. Yet, rather than ripping into teammates, Ingram has sought to empower them.
“The message I give them is the message I give myself,” Ingram said. “As you continue to play the game, you learn different things. So not to be self-frustrated. You can look at the win-loss column every day and be like, ‘Man, (expletive) this. This isn’t going so well.’ But we continue to learn from each game and bring it to the next game.”
What can Ingram and Williamson accomplish together?
Of course, that process will become easier whenever Williams returns. On Nov. 26, the Pelicans cleared Williamson to participate in full-team activities about 10 days after receiving medical clearance to complete contact drills. Although Williamson traveled with the team during its recent three-game trip in Utah and Los Angeles, it remains unclear when Williamson will play.
“I’ve seen him take steps every single day,” Ingram said of Williamson. “I’m sure it’s frustrating. But he’s coming in every day. He’s in the weight room. He’s on the court. He’s making progression every single day he steps on the floor. That’s what I’ve seen from him. He’s hungry to be back.”
Once that happens, Ingram predicted that Williamson will bring “25 to 30 more points” while drawing major attention as a bruising playmaker and scorer with his listed 6-foot-6, 284-pound frame.
Will that be enough, however, for the Pelicans to make a late playoff push?
“I don’t have any expectations,” Ingram said. “It all depends on how healthy our minds are and what we’re willing to push through. It depends on us being healthy physically. But when he gets back, I think we can be really good. I think we still have some learning to do, especially for our young guys to figure out ways to scheme on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. But I think we can make steps to be a winning team.”
Until then, Ingram pledges to show his commitment to the Pelicans by improving his craft and leadership. Even if more losses pile up.
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