Brandon Ingram shoots a free throw vs. Utah

Did You Know That… Brandon Ingram was making a historically-great improvement at the foul line?

by Jim Eichenhofer

Many NBA players who struggle from the free-throw line early in their careers make incremental improvements, practicing enough to perhaps become an average or above-average foul shooter by the time they reach their prime. To use one example, Hall of Fame power forward and Louisiana native Karl Malone shot just 48.1 percent at the stripe as a rookie, but improved by roughly 10 percent each of the next two seasons, before shooting nearly 80 percent late in his career. Former New Orleans center Tyson Chandler shot in the high-50s during his three seasons in the Crescent City, but later climbed into the low-70s during stops in Charlotte, Dallas and Phoenix.

Whether it’s the result of spending countless hours in the gym, or better concentration that can come with maturity, it’s not uncommon for pros to make strides in the category. With that said, what New Orleans All-Star forward Brandon Ingram was accomplishing prior to the 2019-20 season being halted was nearly unprecedented. By drastically increasing his percentage to 85.8 in his debut campaign with the Pelicans – up from just 67.5 in the previous season with the Lakers – Ingram was on pace for the third-biggest single-season improvement of all time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Based on players who’ve attempted at least 250 free throws in both seasons, only Doc Rivers in 1985-86 and Andre Drummond in 2016-17 have made bigger leaps than the 18.3 percent jump Ingram has made after coming to the Crescent City.

Here’s the chart of the largest single-season percentage increases from the foul line in NBA history, via Elias Sports Bureau (minimum 250 attempts in both seasons):

Doc Rivers, Atlanta Hawks, 60.8 percent in 1984-85, 82.8 percent in 1985-86 (+22.0)

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons, 38.6 percent in 2015-16, 60.5 percent in 2016-17 (+21.9)

Brandon Ingram, 67.5 percent in 2018-19, 85.8 percent in 2019-20 (+18.3)

“He’s clearly worked on his game,” Pelicans guard JJ Redick said of Ingram’s transformation, which also includes bumping his three-point percentage from 33.0 to 38.7. “He’s someone who has a real desire to be great. He’s willing to put in the work to make that happen. You don’t develop into a great shooter without being in the gym.”

Ingram has only slightly increased his trips to the foul line with the Pelicans, going from 5.6 attempts per game in ’18-19 with the Lakers to 5.9 this season. His drastic improvement in accuracy, however, means he’s made a total of 88 more foul shots, in just 41 more tries. Another way to look at it is that when the ’19-20 season resumes, even if Ingram somehow missed 80 consecutive free throws, he still would have a better percentage at the foul line than he did in his final season in Los Angeles.

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