Heading into the 2019-20 Pelicans season, newly appointed Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin was effusive in his praise of Jrue Holiday. There wasn’t a microphone in or outside New Orleans Griff wouldn’t get behind to stump for the 29-year-old combo guard, often regarded in the past as one of the most underrated players in the league.
The fervor reached a point at which Griffin even compared the possibility of Jrue’s upcoming season to that of Steve Nash’s 2004-05 campaign, where he unexpectedly electrified the league and took him his first Most Valuable Player award. Clamor for Jrue to unleash and reach his full potential had never been higher, and as Griff notably said he had “permission to dominate people.”
Despite the Pelicans challenging season thus far, Griffin was nearly entirely correct in his assessment of the potential and opportunity afforded to a new star player on this roster — He was just wrong about which one.
Brandon Ingram has embodied every aspect with which Griff spoke glowingly over the summer and in preseason about how Jrue could come to dominate, and this development has been a lifesaver for the Pelicans. Simply put, fans have been blessed to be able to watch the birth of a star while navigating the dark passages of this season.
A mea culpa first, I myself was very wary of dealing for Ingram as a capstone in the trade for Anthony Davis. His game was interesting, but choppy and inconsistent. His body, while not weak, reminded many of AD’s fragility and frequent trips to the locker room midgame to assess whichever contusion had taken hold that night. Most importantly, his diagnosis of deep venous thrombosis gave countless Pelicans fans nightmares of another situation with constant injuries or missed games. Chris Bosh’s early retirement due to blood clots clearly made an impact on that judgment, and fans had reason to be concerned. Fortunately for myself and many others, we have been proven exceptionally wrong.
The Jrue Holiday that fans were sold as being a potential MVP candidate would probably have numbers along the lines of 25.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.9 APG with 50/40/85 shooting splits, while still playing his exemplary defense. That’s exactly what the Pelicans have received from Ingram offensively this season, along with a willingness to accept challenges in every facet of the game from defensive assignments to late-game scoring.
He has been the team’s MVP this season in almost every definable metric, especially since the return of Derrick Favors and defensive game plan adjustments have balanced out the roster.
Shifting all over the floor, Ingram has defended too many players larger than him in the absence of Zion Williamson and lack of productivity from bench bigs. He’s been asked to play the role of swiss army knife for the Pelicans while still accepting the burden of leading scorer and doing so in an efficient and effective manner.
With his restricted free agency looming, we should fully expect the Pelicans to re-sign Ingram as a core piece of the roster to pair alongside Zion. But more importantly, they should work hard to illustrate the value he brings to this team and franchise and offer Ingram the maximum available salary depending on the season’s All-NBA results.
A steady and quiet leader has excelled when presented with opportunity and fit ideally into the fabric of both New Orleans and the Pelicans franchise as a whole...it just wasn’t the one we expected.
Thank goodness for Brandon Ingram.