In a widely-discussed and reported trade that finally became official Saturday, New Orleans in part acquired a trio of players from the Los Angeles Lakers, including forward Brandon Ingram and guards Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Lakers TV sideline reporter Mike Trudell has been there for each of the three players’ entire NBA careers, making him the perfect candidate to discuss the additions with Pelicans.com this week:
Pelicans.com: We have a lot to get to, but let’s start with your general summary of what Ingram, Ball and Hart accomplished during their time in Los Angeles. Where do you see each player in their development since they arrived in the NBA?
Trudell: There’s always a difference in expectations between No. 2 overall picks like Ingram and Ball, and a late first round pick like Hart (No. 30 overall). It’s hard to exceed that expectation at No. 2, but both players had flashes of brilliance in their time with the Lakers. Ingram’s best stretch of play came in the six games after the All-Star break prior to his season-ending injury, when he averaged 27.8 points on 57 percent shooting, plus 7.5 boards in 37 minutes. His shooting numbers aren’t that sustainable over a larger sample size, but he certainly showed why he was taken so high. Meanwhile, Lonzo also had his best stretch just before he went down for the season, when he averaged 13.0 points, 8.1 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals in his final seven games. Getting and keeping both guys healthy is an obvious key, but they flashed the high-end talent, for sure. Meanwhile, Hart showed himself to be far better than the typical 30th pick, and was at times an ideal 3-and-D guy before injuries claimed his sophomore season as well. The MVP of last year’s Summer League showed that he has more to his game than just the 3-and-D, but being a star in his role is certainly a good place to be.
Pelicans.com: After being chosen No. 2 overall in the 2016 draft, Ingram has shown many moments of great potential, but from afar it seemed like the best stretch of his career occurred in February/March of last season. What do you think accounted for his jump in production and efficiency? Over an eight-game span, he tallied 19-plus points every night, shooting over 50 percent six times.
Trudell: As I mentioned, he was fantastic after the break, and I think the biggest reason was he stopped worrying about fitting in with all of his veteran teammates, and just played his own game. He was relentless as an attacker, looking to score constantly. His unique length and soft touch allowed him to do it efficiently, to boot. He’s an exciting talent, and off the court, is solely focused on becoming a great basketball player.
Pelicans.com: Ball, a UCLA product and the second pick in ’17, was one of the most discussed and debated college players to enter a recent draft, even drawing some Jason Kidd comparisons for his style of play and approach. What are some of the biggest takeaways from his NBA career so far that would make Pelicans fans excited about his future?
Trudell: Lonzo is truly an elite defender, and will immediately form a fantastic combination on that end with Jrue Holiday. At 6-foot-6’, he’s both long and super athletic (35-inch vertical), and has tremendous instincts about when to help off his man and cause problems. He’s also really good at turning the havoc he creates into transition offense, and then we all know about his unselfish nature and desire to get his teammates involved. He’s a low-usage point guard for sure, content to move the ball around, but he’s also a better 3-point shooter than most people think from catch-and-shoot and step-back varieties. With all that said, he’s still raw in some ways, and will continue to get better at things like scoring in the midrange and finishing at the rim. But bottom line, if he can stay healthy, he has upside on a game that is already a net positive thanks to the defense, unselfish offense and better-than-you-think 3-point shooting.
Pelicans.com: Hart seems like he’s been a solid reserve guard over his two years. He didn’t shoot as well in his second season, but as a rookie he shot 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. What were some of the more valuable ways he contributed for Los Angeles on the court?
Trudell: He shot pretty well in November (37.5 percent) and December (38.4 percent) up until knee tendinitis impacted his ability to rise for his perimeter shot, which limited his season-long percentage. He’s a very capable shooter, and an excellent finisher at the rim through contact. Hart’s also excellent at guarding bigger players on switches, while he still needs to work on containing dribble penetration from smaller guards. He’s a hard worker who will keep getting better, but is a player you can already trust to leave on the court in any situation.
Pelicans.com: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Hart’s personality, because in the weeks since he learned he was becoming a Pelican, he has already greatly endeared himself to New Orleans fans, via social media. He’s done things like come up with funny nicknames (“The Beignet Boys”); not-so-subtly profess his love for Raising Canes chicken fingers; and immediately photoshop himself into a Pelicans jersey. For people who are just getting familiar with him as a person, how would you describe Hart off the court?
Trudell: Hart’s great off the court, and so are Lonzo and Ingram. New Orleans will certainly enjoy all three of them. Hart’s probably the most vocal of the trio, but don’t sleep on Lonzo’s social media game when he’s in the mood. Lonzo’s actually very funny, and everybody in the locker room likes him.
Pelicans.com: For each of the three players, what are the areas most important for them to improve upon, in order to begin approaching their potential as an NBA player?
Trudell: To reiterate, staying healthy and learning their bodies is the most important thing. For Ingram, probably being more comfortable with his 3-pointer – which will come. Lonzo’s finishing at the rim and free throw shooting will help quite a bit, and Hart’s perimeter on-ball defense could keep growing.