Brandon Ingram throws down a fast-break dunk vs. Houston

Brandon Ingram garnering individual accolades as wins start coming for Pelicans

Fourth-year forward earned Western Conference weekly award
by Jim Eichenhofer

Brandon Ingram has authored individual stretches like this before, including averaging 27.8 points in what turned out to be his final six games as a Laker. He’s been part of modest team success as well – Los Angeles reeled off five straight wins in April 2017, near the end of Ingram’s rookie season.

Never before have both occurred at the same time, however, which is why the New Orleans forward was named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the first time in four seasons as a pro. During Week 10 of the NBA schedule, the 22-year-old averaged 25.3 points in highly efficient fashion (49 percent from the field, 54 percent from three-point range). He also averaged 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals. Even better, New Orleans went 4-0, beating three teams (Denver, Indiana, Houston) that are a combined 35 games above .500.

“I mean, he’s our best player. He’s been showing it all year,” point guard Lonzo Ball said Tuesday, smiling before alluding to the team aspect of the weekly individual honor. “He finally got the award, because we finally won some games for him. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

“It feels good,” Ingram said, when asked of being selected for the award. “I just give it all to the team, with the wins and the way we’re playing. We’re playing at a very good pace. I think that has helped us out a lot, so I thank my teammates for it.”

After a 1-7 start and a recent 13-game losing streak, if there were such a thing as an in-season Most Improved Team award, New Orleans (11-23) would be an early frontrunner, having won five of its last six games. The Pelicans’ most productive performer continues to make strides on a monthly and yearly basis, resulting in noticeable bumps in scoring average (25.3 ppg, compared to 18.3 last season), rebounding average (7.0 from 5.1) and assist average (3.9 from 3.0). He was a below-average three-point shooter with the Lakers (32.9 percent over three seasons), but is making 40.9 percent of his trey attempts for the Pelicans, ranked 28th among all players. In the Christmas win at Denver, Ingram nearly doubled his career-high for three-pointers made in a game, draining seven during his 31-point eruption (his previous best was four makes).

“His progress has been great,” said JJ Redick, himself No. 16 all time in NBA three-point percentage and makes. “He’s right around 40 percent. He puts in the work – you see him every day before practice getting bulk shooting up. It’s something he’s worked on and is shooting it confidently.”

“He’s just always in the gym,” Ball said. “I know he’s focusing on being efficient, but if you look at his numbers, he gets better every year.”

“It’s all in progression,” Ingram said. “That’s all I seek every practice and every game, to progress in some way, be coachable and try to be the best I can be for my teammates.”

In virtually every measurable way, Ingram is in the midst of the best season of his NBA career, but Pelicans players and coaches also point out that the Duke University product still has more upside. Among the next steps for the Kinston, N.C., native are to reach the NBA playoffs for the first time; become a better defensive player; and perhaps earn an even more significant individual recognition in future Februarys.

“He’s a guy that’s really worked on his game and wants to take the next step,” fifth-year Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said. “You can see that he’s well on his way to doing that.”

“I’ve been with him the last three years – I knew the type of talent he was, the work he puts in every day,” said Ball, the No. 2 pick by the Lakers in the ’17 draft, after Ingram was L.A.’s second pick a year earlier. “I knew his time was coming.

“He’s definitely going to be an All-Star in this league one day.”

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