Basketball is a game of choices. Every action an NBA player takes has consequences and the ability to consistently make decisions that result in positive outcomes is one of the most valuable and underrated skills a basketball player can master.
Decision making acumen splits into two categories: quality of decisions and speed of decisions. Making the right call on both ends is vital, but the ability to make them at high speeds is equally as important. Windows are fleeting in the NBA filled with athletes clogging gaps soon after they open, so having the intellect to exploit those moments of opportunity is key.
This takes us to Brandon Ingram, who has taken a massive leap in his fourth season towards stardom. Elevating his shooting and scoring is the primary reason for his success: this season, he has more than tripled his three-point volume per 100 possessions, shooting 8.4 threes per 100 at a 39.1% clip.
Ingram is one of only 17 players this season to shoot above 39% from deep on over six attempts per game. Even more impressive than his jump in three-point accuracy is his free-throw accuracy—from a career sub-70% to a 85.3% on 8.7 attempts per 100. The percentages along with his form overhaul and visibly improved confidence make his shooting advancement seem legitimate.
While Ingram, only 22, is approaching the upper echelon of on-ball creators, he still has significant flaws keeping him from the level of All-NBA type players. His defense has been disappointing this season, both on and off of the ball, and he’s inconsistent with his passing.
There is one more less talked about flaw Ingram has to correct and it is a correctable one: his inconsistent decisiveness as an attacker, which is inherently tethered to offensive decision makers. Without top tier athletic tools, Ingram will need to up his decision making goodness to reach the elite tier of offensive threats.
Ingram has undoubtedly made strides as a passer—he’s averaging a career-high 5.8 assists per 100—and there are games where the decision making is crisp. In those games, Ingram looks the part of a legitimate star.
When Ingram is moving the ball, he fits seamlessly into the Pelicans’ offense, which is brimming with good spacing and player and ball motion. Take this possession: the ball flying from player to player, all five Pelicans moving and screening with a purpose and a wide open three as a result:
Ingram has a tendency to ball-stop, pounding the air out of the ball, stopping the valuable flow of New Orleans’ offense. Now, this playstyle has been largely effective for Ingram, placing in the 82nd %tile among isolation scorers. Among players with over 100 isolation possession, Ingram places fourth, trailing James Harden, Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan.
Just because a strategy is effective, that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Ingram will be the type of player who can get a bucket in straight isolation, which is extremely valuable. This shouldn’t be his primary method of offense though, at least not at the moment. Ingram and the Pelicans’ offense as a whole benefits from motion and off-ball attacking.
Ingram has possessions like this, where he halts the flow of offense and takes an ill-advised look, too often at this point:
Ingram has struggled in the post this season, placing in the 17th %tile. Much of this is due to his lack of strength, but his tendency to hold the ball and delay his attack hurts almost as much. With Shabazz Napier defending Ingram, the Pelicans should add two points with ease. Instead of attacking relentlessly, Ingram dribbles around and loses the ball:
However, when Ingram goes off of the catch in the post, especially against switches, he can overwhelm defenses. Whether he’s facing a high-level wing defender or bludgeoning a switch, a prompt attack makes all of the difference:
Snappy decision making from the post doesn’t just mean spinning off of defenders for easy scores, but also laying the ball off to cutters when help converges:
It is hard to overstate how much more effective Ingram is attacking off of the catch, exploiting advantage situations with his ever-improving scoring craft. Compare this possession, where only Ingram touches the ball; he doesn’t inundate the smaller CJ McCollum, rather, he’s stripped and clanks a fadeaway, a possession wasted:
To this one, where Trey Lyles closes out on Ingram—defenders have to close out on him now given his newfound spot up success—so he promptly pumps, prances to the lane and puts in two points:
Along with attacking off of the catch within the flow of the offense, Ingram excels in other off-ball actions, especially on dribble handoffs and pistol action New Orleans loves to run. Facing one of the league’s most feared stoppers, Ingram utilizes the handoff to get a sliver of space from Kawhi Leonard. He’s evolving into the type of scorer who capitalizes on these advantages, fooling Ivica Zubac with sly footwork and body manipulation:
When defenses collapse to take away Ingram’s space freed by the handoff, he’s learning the ways of an exploitative passer, threading a masterclass live dribble off-hand pocket pass through the defense for a dunk:
Over his last three games, and Zion Williamson’s first three, Brandon Ingram’s play has dipped. Some have expressed concern over the long term fit between those two young stars. Based on everything I’ve written here, there should be no concern over a long term fit. Zion Williamson has taken the highest usage on the Pelicans in his return (31.7%) so some growing pains from Ingram are normal.
The only real concern between Williamson and Ingram would be if Ingram’s spot-up shooting was a fluke, which by all indication doesn’t seem to be the case. At his peak, Zion’s rim gravity will be the strongest in the NBA, or up there if not. That will only help Ingram, who will decimate defenses as a secondary attacker. It’s not like Ingram can never command the offense, running pick and rolls and isolating himself. He has proved himself worth of that responsibility and Zion’s off ball offense will be as deadly as his on-ball.
More intentional off-ball action will go a long way for Brandon Ingram aside from his on-ball responsibilities. Ingram likely won’t ever be a true primary, but that is fine. He doesn’t have to be something he isn’t and suffer for it because the Pelicans already have their primary of the future on the roster. He can be a star in a secondary/closer role for the Pelicans and this role would also likely offer a boost to his defense with less offensive responsibility. For Ingram, it’s a matter of continued adaptation, which he’s proven this season he’s more than capable of.