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2019-20 Player Preview: Brandon Ingram has picked up right where he left off with Lakers, signaling breakout season ahead with Pelicans

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B.I. is damn good, but he’s only going to get better.

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

“First person I can say, that I can look at him and feel like I’m looking in the mirror.” — initial impression of Brandon Ingram by Kevin Durant.

By now everyone should know this story. Ingram was subject to numerous unfair Durant comparisons upon arrival to the league and many feel he has failed to live up to the hype commonly associated with a second overall pick, especially with his measurables and ability. Yet when looking deeper into the 22-year-old’s body of work — did you catch the age?? — he’s made key improvements, and if one believes the deep venous thrombosis is a thing of the past, the positive trend in Ingram’s development should soon earn him the greater respect that he deserves.

While ESPN ranked Ingram impressively enough at 56 last month, Sports Illustrated was not nearly as benevolent, placing him 85th on their list. It’s obviously not as poor of an omission as leaving Lonzo Ball off their snub list, but we’ll save that discussion for another time because I really want to focus on B.I., who is poised to make a significant leap this upcoming season.

(Seriously though, Reggie Jackson, Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroeder got in ahead of Lonzo Ball? That group doesn’t seem like they should be threatening anyone’s top 100. For fringe players, there’s no tantalizing upside here. None!)

Thus far in his short career, Ingram has proven to be a gifted scorer, one who very much prefers to do his damage from inside the arc, but on paper, the efficiency and playing style could use some upgrading. Factoring that length and build, Ingram’s defense needs to become more consistent and dependable, too.

Already possessing a spotty record of knocking down the three-ball (percentages of 33.0%, 39.0%, 29.4% during the first three years of his career), Ingram’s free throw percentage has failed to eclipse the 70% mark in each of his three seasons. A 55.5 true shooting percentage earned him 92nd place among players who appeared in a minimum of 40 games and averaged 25+ minutes a contest. Significant improvement from the charity stripe and/or the three-point line would go a long way in elevating his status quickly around the league.

Fueling the speculation that Ingram’s playing style needs adaptation, a questionable shot selection and time of possession say his fit isn’t most conducive to the modern game and could be problematic for associate offensive coach Chris Finch. 34.5% of his shot attempts came from the much maligned mid-range area per Basketball Reference. (The area between 10 feet from the rim out to the three-point line). While that falls short of frequencies witnessed by DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, a 40.9% field goal percentage from that part of the floor should have Ingram strongly reconsider seeking out more analytic friendly shots in the future.

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Another apparent strike against him, Ingram averaged 3.82 seconds per touch. He held the ball longer per possession than everyone save 14 players who often touched the ball in the front court (minimum of 30 front court touches per game). As you might expect, that list is mostly populated by point guards, with Kemba Walker leading the way. While a decent playmaker, no one is going to mistaken Ingram for a floor general yet. He’s never had an assist percentage higher than 17.7%. For comparison’s sake, that same AST% was posted by Paul George and Terry Rozier last season. That’s strong enough to be the decision maker on a few consecutive plays but worrisome if entrusted to run the offense for significant stretches at a time.

Now that we’ve pointed out some faults, we need to take a turn to praise each of them. Yeah, you read that correctly. Ingram is not comfortable in the role of a spot-up shooter from behind the three-point line, but that’s okay. Brandon likes to pound the ball into the ground a little too much for our liking. Cool.

In the name of star development — yes, I believe Ingram winds up an All-Star more than once when his career is all said and done — the coaching staff needs to make allowances for Ingram’s sometime non-analytical approach because excelling in certain areas typically frowned upon by advanced stats could eventually add a few more victories in the win column.

Think about how much the game slows down in crunch time or when offenses invariably are slumping and a basket is desperately needed. Someone needs to break that dry spell when easier looks are not being generated. Furthermore, some of the best shooters in the game live in the mid-range a lot more than you might expect, like Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Did you know that more than a quarter of JJ Redick’s career shot attempts have come from long twos (16 feet out to the three-point line)?

Big-time scoring threats should have the green light the vast majority of time when left open from all over the floor. Ingram hasn’t hit that level of respect yet, of course, but I do believe he is knocking on that door as we’re on the precipice of his best season to date. Leaving the bright lights of Los Angeles behind and escaping the clutches of an offense built around LeBron James will soon do Ingram wonders.

If you don’t want to trust Kevin Durant on this matter, I must point out that impact metrics are warming up to Ingram rapidly. I believe that advanced box metrics have continued to undervalue him despite the fact that he’s made some real positive improvements to this point in his career.

Regarding his time of possession, Ingram has developed a knack for finding good rhythm when attacking, probing, bouncing, trying to find that personal comfort zone before making something happen. For instance, did you know that among players who averaged 10 or more drives per game last season, Ingram scoring attempts led to points 65.9% of the time? Only eight players proved to be more effective and here’s four of those names: Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.

Modern NBA strategies lament isolation scorers, but pull-up jump shots remain a fact of life...and a weapon for those proficient. You’ve seen time and again how much attention Stephen Curry commands from every part of the floor by opposing defenses. His gravity is unparalleled because that pull-up jumper of his can be a game-changer when he starts rolling. Last year, Steph finished with a 56.2% effective field goal percentage on pull-ups, but here’s an interesting fact though: Ingram made a higher percentage of pull-ups than Steph. The overwhelming majority of Brandon’s attempts came inside the three-point line; nevertheless, it proved other team’s should start accounting for that shot. In fact, only five other high volume players knocked down pull-up jumpers more regularly: Durant, CJ McCollum, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Tobias Harris.

Moreover, when considering Ingram’s pull-up FG% has shown noticeable improvement in each of his seasons (34.6% —> 38.6% —> 44.1%), there should be more than just hope that his game is growing and possibly headed for something glorious. If he’s figured out how to utilize his height and length effectively in this instance, there’s a good chance he’ll soon learn to apply that to other facets. Case in point, he’s done just that inside the paint — look at how efficient he’s become among the trees.

0-3 feet FG% 3-10 feet FG% Paint touches FG%
2016-17 season 60.7% 28.9% 61.4%
2017-18 season 67.3% 20.7% 60.7%
2018-19 season 68.1% 43.7% 72.7%

So where is this fun little ride taking us? According to Basketball Reference, it’s safe to stick our heads up in the clouds.

Care to venture a guess as to how many players aged 21 or younger finished with a line of at least 18 points, five rebounds and three assists per game in Basketball Reference’s database before last season? Just 11.

  1. Magic Johnson
  2. Michael Jordan
  3. Chris Webber
  4. Antoine Walker
  5. Kevin Garnett
  6. Kobe Bryant
  7. Elton Brand
  8. Tracey McGrady
  9. LeBron James
  10. Tyreke Evans
  11. Blake Griffin

The conclusion of the 2018-19 season witnessed two more players join this list of illustrious names: Luka Doncic and Brandon Ingram.

Despite everything you’ve seen or read during the first three years of his career, Ingram’s ceiling remains as high as it’s ever been. Honestly, his game reminds me some of an elongated Paul Pierce.

That first step isn’t the quickest, the top speed might be average and there’s no jaw-dropping displays of athleticism, but he consistently finds the space he seeks. It never appears he’s moving fast enough to be a big threat, but buckets and results follow — and each passing season has produced bigger numbers and better efficiency.

Over his final 15 games of last season, Brandon Ingram averaged 23.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.7 threes and 0.5 steals in 36.7 minutes of action. He posted a 56.5 FG%, a 37.9 3PT% and a 75.0 FT%, while attempting 1.9 threes and 6.5 free throws a contest.

After five preseason games with the Pelicans, Ingram boasts per 36 minute averages of 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 threes and 1.3 steals. That’s improvement across the board and don’t forget he didn’t pick up a basketball for months before arriving in New Orleans. The shooting line was solid too (44.4 FG%, 38.5 3PT%, 82.6 FT%), but the increase in attempts from three-point range (4.2) and the free throw line (7.4) could be signaling another positive step is just around the corner.

As Chris mentioned during last night’s victory over the Knicks, Ingram is the most versatile small forward we’ve witnessed wear a New Orleans uniform since Jamal Mashburn, and I feel quite confident in writing that B.I. has a great chance of going on to have a better career.

For his tender age, Ingram is damn good already, but he’s only scratched the surface. With how his game is trending, don’t sleep on a nice breakout season and don’t dismiss the idea that someday Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson could form one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.

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