There are reams of data available to back up why Brandon Ingram captured the NBA’s 2019-20 Most Improved Player trophy, whether it’s increases in scoring, rebounding and assists, or major percentage leaps in both foul shooting and three-pointers. What Ingram will remember most from his first season with New Orleans, however, is much less tangible, yet more reflective of what a change of scenery meant to him in Year 4 of his pro career.
“I think this year I had the most fun, playing basketball the way I wanted to play,” Ingram said following Monday’s official announcement of his MIP honor. “Having the opportunity to be in the gym every day with my teammates who love to do the same thing that I love to do. Seeing so many guys coming back to the gym all the time, always asking for different advice on the floor so they can get better In their game. That was the most enjoyable moment for me. I don’t think I have a stat or anything that made me the happiest or motivated me the most.”
Ingram may have enjoyed himself greatly during his initial year in the Crescent City, but a significant amount of grunt work with no fans or media watching went into that. Despite a shortened 2019 offseason as a result of an injury late in the previous season, Ingram managed to lead New Orleans in scoring (23.8 ppg) and was more productive in virtually every key category, despite his minutes per game only expanding microscopically from 33.8 to 33.9. Pelicans Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin emphasized that Ingram’s devotion to improvement paid major dividends all season.
“What’s really important to me about this and for our organization is the work rate that brought this about,” Griffin said. “This isn’t something where B.I. just showed up at the gym. He’s one of the only young players I’ve ever had to beg to work less. He goes through incredible lengths to get better. He loves the game. He has passion for the game in a way that very few players do and certainly very few players his age do. (It’s) the attention to detail, and just the love and joy of playing with his teammates that Brandon has.”
Griffin told a brief story about how Ingram immediately showed his determination by vehemently asking the New Orleans coaching staff to provide hard instruction, even if that meant dishing out some choice words.
“He told them, I believe I have greatness in me and I want you to do anything you can to drag it out of me,” Griffin said. “Dog-cuss me, work me too hard, but I want to be great. He dedicated himself to that in a way that I can’t say I’ve ever really seen a player do, certainly not at his age. It’s our honor as a franchise to be represented by a human being that loves this the way Brandon does.”
Ingram: “Since Day 1 coming in, talking to Alvin Gentry, David Griffin and some of the trainers on the team, I just wanted to put my work in every single day and get the best out of it.”
That effort resulted in Ingram’s first All-Star appearance in February – along with earning one of the NBA’s most significant annual awards six months later.