By and large, Brandon Ingram’s steadfast approach to NBA
basketball was wildly successful. Over the last two years alone,
he’d garnered an All-Star berth, a Most Improved Player of the Year
trophy and a five-year, $158 million contract extension.
Expecting or asking him to change was probably futile, and for
good reason. He didn’t need to change. He was already
excellent, a borderline star before the age of 25.
Despite that excellence, though, he was leaving opportunities on
the table — missed passing reads, failed defensive rotations,
stalled scoring chances — given his marvelous intersection of skill
and physical tools.
... Until he wasn't, and started taking advantage of them. Until
he drastically revolutionized himself on both ends to ignite the
best season of his career.
The outcome? Leading the New Orleans Pelicans from the cellar of
the Western Conference following a 3-16 start to Play-In Tournament
contention at 23-35 (20-19 since that early stretch), all without
superstar Zion Willamson.
Ingram has been at the heart of it. He’s incrementally altered
various facets of his game — passing, defense and scoring
tendencies — to maximize everything he provides, playing like a man
with many more All-Star appearances ahead.
In 27 games since Dec. 3, he has an assist rate of 27.9% (96th
percentile among forwards, according to Cleaning The Glass) and a
turnover rate of 9.9% (59th percentile), both of which would be
career-bests across an entire season. Throughout his first 17
games, those marks were 22.1% and 14.0% respectively.
Rarely do established players, even those south of 25 years old,
enjoy the type of in-season leap Ingram is having. His processing,
accuracy and floor vision as a passer have transformed from clear
drawbacks to superlatives of his skill set. Once components that
could bog down the offense, they’re currently crucial to
spearheading and amplifying many of New Orleans’ fruitful
He’s become increasingly adept at manipulating opponents with
his eyes, quicker at making necessary reads when they’re presented,
and is leveraging his 6-foot-8 frame and 7-foot-3 wingspan to
frequent passing windows that most ball-handlers cannot. If an
opening doesn’t initially arise, he’s patient and waits for
something profitable to originate. The way he interacts with help
defenders is radically improved.
Whereas passing once felt like a secondary option among his
internal-creation hierarchy, it’s now on (or close to) equal
footing with his scoring. Passing has always been something he
could do, but wasn’t always on his mind to do.
That’s no longer the case. He’s simply identifying opportunities
with more haste and regularity, thanks in part to considering those
opportunities more often.
He’s rifling live-dribble dimes for layups, is accentuating
Jaxson Hayes’ recent breakout and looks unbothered by swarms of
defensive attention. There aren’t many better wing-sized
facilitators than him.
While Ingram’s passing rise has been percolating for months, the
scoring upswing required longer to follow suit. At times, his
approach appeared as though he was still fighting against old
habits, determined to reach his spots on the floor without an
effective blueprint to do so. The result would be possessions
plagued by tunnel vision and punctuated by ill-advised
But recently, he’s translated the valuable patience, refined
decision-making and accelerated processing to his individual
scoring. A shift in how he’s deployed within the Pelicans’ offense
has amplified his talents, too.
There’s greater emphasis to carve out space for his touches and
get him the ball on the move. Whether it’s dribble handoffs,
pindowns, flex screens or cross-screens, he’s catching the ball in
familiar areas on the floor with a head of steam more
In turn, he’s discovering his groove as a scorer. Over the last
15 games, he’s averaging 22.4 points on 57.2% True Shooting. Prior
to that, he averaged 22.2 points on 52.9% TS this season (29
When he proceeds promptly upon receiving a pass and ensures his
physical tools can maintain or expand an advantage, he’s pretty
damn tough to stymie. That’s been his signature during this
stretch: quick — not hurried — decisions that spark quality looks
in spots he’s comfortable.
He’s cooking, and has powered New Orleans to a 9-6 record when
he plays, featuring four wins over current top-seven seeds or
Although not entirely paralleled by his scoring renaissance,
he’s also streamlining some highly impressive defensive
consistency, particularly off the ball. Inklings of such a
development, largely based on heightened awareness in help
situations, peeked through earlier this season. But they were never
substantial or commonplace enough to firmly declare he was a
different caliber of defender.
The past five weeks are proving otherwise.
He’s far more attentive as a low man on the interior and is
weaponizing his rangy wingspan to grander depths. His
decision-making and overall performance suggest he’s finally
understanding the degree to which he can influence possessions with
his rare blend of length, height and mobility. Active hands are the
norm, and he’s wreaking some serious havoc away from the ball.
Navigating screens remains a glaring weakness, and he’s not a
trustworthy on-ball stopper in most situations. Yet, he is
absolutely a better defender compared to the end of last season,
start of this season or even two months ago. He’s been pretty dang
good for, like, five weeks.
His limbs are swirling; the body is moving. He’s establishing a
new, rosier baseline of expectations for his defense each
Dating back to a Jan. 11 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves
(13 games), Ingram is posting block and steal rates of 1.4% (80th
percentile) and 1.0% (38th percentile), according to Cleaning The
He’s tallied at least one block or steal in 11 of those games
over that time period, a feat he accomplished in just 17 of his
first 31 games. Before this run, he was logging block and steal
rates of 0.5% and 0.7% percent (25th and 8th percentiles)
respectively. That’s a pretty meaningful jump in a sample composing
nearly 30% of his games this year!
Through five seasons, Ingram had not played for a team with a
record above .500; thus far this campaign, that trend has
continued. It’s not to say he couldn’t positively affect winning or
he was some "empty calories" player (sidenote: I really dislike the
lack of nuance and general idea in this second term). He
wasn’t either of those labels. Rather, he functioned as someone
best equipped to amplify winning in a specific role designed to
mask his flaws and spotlight his strengths.
The latest version of Ingram’s game can drive winning. That’s an
arduous adjustment for anyone to complete, and an admirable one for
anyone to embrace — especially a guy of his ability whose previous
approach yielded considerable success.
In Monday’s blowout win over the Toronto Raptors, Ingram was the
best player on the floor, despite only scoring 10 points and taking
7 shots. Four different Pelicans matched or exceeded his field goal
attempts. With 8 dimes (2 turnovers), he calmly picked apart the
Raptors’ rangy, zealous defense and posed issues amid their own
He controlled and dominated the game independent of individual
scoring, something he would’ve struggled mightily to do in past
years. This is a different Brandon Ingram though. Monday was
emblematic of how far he’s come and why it’s so worthwhile.
He’s discovered the seemingly optimal version of himself, and
everyone involved is benefitting.
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