Brandon Ingram potential, playmaking skills provide intrigue for Pelicans

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

In early July, Pelicans.com solicited tweets from New Orleans fans related to new roster additions, addressing several questions and comments among the submissions. Still, there were many, many other responses we didn’t have time to fit into what was already a lengthy 35-minute podcast.

We addressed a pair of Ingram comments/questions related to his efficient offense (from @PlantBasedComic), as well as his proven ability to score in isolation (from @KlintjWhite), but the following were among the other relevant ones tweeted about the three-year NBA veteran. Fans were responding to the tweet “What is your opinion and perspective on how much upside Brandon Ingram, 21, still has and how he might fit or benefit from playing in Pelicans system?”

From @Lance91667640: Will Brandon Ingram be available and healthy at the start of training camp? Greetings from Germany

Ingram has indicated that he’s close to returning to the court to begin preparing for 2019-20, so he should be fine for training camp, which won’t begin until late September or early October.

“I think I’m pretty close,” Ingram said July 16. “I haven’t been shooting (as he would in a game), but I’ve been doing some form shooting. Some lower-body stuff, some ballhandling, some passing. So I’m pretty close to resuming normal workouts right now. But I’m doing some regular cardio stuff and just trying to get back.

“I’m kind of anxious to get back on the floor. I haven’t picked up a basketball since March. I’m excited for it. I missed the game of basketball. I’m ready for training camp. I’m ready to play basketball, period. I’m ready to get back on the floor.”

Asked whether he were ever concerned that his injury might keep him from getting back on the floor, Ingram responded, “No. People were giving me good advice on the recovery from my surgery. I just stayed on my rehab and kept it going.”

From @TrentKyle: He is about to explode in Gentry’s system. Can get to the rim at will. Just hope he’s working on that three ball. Lonzo, Jrue and B.I. is a ton of dribble penetration

Ingram expressed enthusiasm about playing for his new team in several areas, including the Pelicans’ potential-filled young roster, the emphasis on playing an up-tempo style, as well as the possibility of New Orleans becoming a top-tier defensive club. During Ingram’s three seasons in Los Angeles, the Lakers finished (in chronological order) 30th, 13th and 13th in defensive efficiency.

“It helps us on the floor when we’re playing older guys,” the 21-year-old Ingram said of New Orleans’ youth. “We have the leeway to push the pace, to be a fast team, be really, really good on the defensive end. When we mix it together with experience and the young guys, it’s going to mesh together pretty well.”

Three-point shooting is an area where Ingram can improve or become more comfortable, having shot 32.9 percent in his career. He hasn’t been very reliant on treys, though, especially compared to other players at his position. Based on ESPN.com’s positional designations, Ingram’s 1.8 attempts per game in ’18-19 would have ranked him 50th among small forwards (he did not officially qualify for statistical categories last season, due to only playing 52 games). He’s progressively taken more shots closer to the basket each year, while also improving his finishing rate in the paint, up to a career-best 68.1 percent last season on attempts from 0-3 feet (via Basketball-Reference.com).

From @TorrenceJoseph: I think he is in the mold of the small forward of today’s game and what the Pels missed while AD was here. Long, rangy, but needs to bulk up and develop consistent three-point range. KD, George, Giannis lead the way of 6-9 to 6-11 small forwards who can create matchup issues. He can prosper

Comparisons to Durant, Paul George and Antetokounmpo may seem lofty, but prior to being sidelined for the remainder of ’18-19 in March, Ingram appeared to be on the verge of taking the next step as a player. Over the final six games he played, he averaged 27.8 points, scoring at least 23 in every game, including 29- and 23-point outings vs. New Orleans. He paired that output with excellent efficiency, going 61/107 from the field, or 57.0 percent.

Asked whether that stretch demonstrated that he was coming into his own as an NBA player, Ingram responded, “I thought I was. I thought I finally felt comfortable and was just going out and playing basketball. I wasn’t thinking as much. I was letting the game come to me. And I was doing everything that I practiced in the gym before games. It just came easy.”

From @Lildyce504: I think he’s gonna lead the Pels in scoring this season

One reason the Pelicans have discussed defense so much in the offseason – and will likely continue to do so into the fall – is that they appear to possess more than enough weapons offensively. New Orleans has placed exactly 12th in offensive efficiency each of the past two seasons, despite injuries and other issues that created significant lineup uncertainty, but now has perhaps more scoring depth than any recent Pelicans roster. Ingram (18.3) and Jrue Holiday (21.2) both averaged career highs in scoring last season; Zion Williamson put up 22.6 ppg at Duke; Derrick Favors likely will see his offensive role greatly increase, after averaging 11.8 ppg in only 23.2 minutes with Utah last season.

From @LakersTalk1: Superstar in the making. He’s shut down PG, KD, McCollum, Kyrie etc. At 21 he plays elite D which is rare in youngins. He’s got a polished offense that is expanding. Unlike Giannis/Kawhi, at 21 BI can shoot already. Gets to the FT like a vet too

Ingram’s ability to draw fouls has not been discussed much since he was acquired by New Orleans, but via ESPN.com, his average of 5.6 free throw attempts last season would’ve ranked him seventh among all small forwards (he did not play enough games to qualify for NBA statistical leaders). According to ESPN.com, the only “threes” who were more prolific on visiting the charity stripe were Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Paul George, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant and Danilo Gallinari – and two of those players (Booker and Doncic) are probably more appropriately described as shooting guards. Like many young players, Ingram needs to keep improving his accuracy rate, having shot 66.2 percent over his three NBA seasons; the Lakers (69.9) finished No. 29 in percentage last season, ahead of only the Heat (69.5). Incidentally, even though free throw shooting is barely discussed when analyzing and prognosticating teams, New Orleans fired nearly exactly the same number of total foul shots as the Lakers last season (1,921 to 1,910), but the Pelicans made a whopping 126 more FTs than L.A., an advantage of 1.5 points per game over an 82-game schedule.

From @Q_Hackett966: I think he really flourishes either way. Any minutes he gets can be productive either getting buckets off nice dimes with the starters or being the guy for the second unit. But obviously you let them boys run

The Pelicans are enthusiastic about Ingram’s ability to create his own shot or set up teammates. In ’17-18, prior to LeBron James’ arrival in Los Angeles, Ingram finished in the 85th percentile among wing players in assist rate.

“Brandon’s ability as an elite playmaker and a long, athletic defender is going to enable him to play multiple positions,” David Griffin said July 16.

On his opportunity with a new franchise, Ingram noted, “I’m very excited. I think it’s a big culture change, and I’m with a couple of my guys (Lakers teammates Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart) that I’ve been playing with for two years. It’s a new opportunity for other people to see what we can do on the basketball floor.”

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