On Thursday of this week, ESPN released an article detailing a panel’s prediction of who would be the top 50 players in the NBA bubble. The panel included Tim Bontemps, Kirk Goldsberry, Tim MacMahon, Kevin Pelton, Jorge Sedano and Andre Snellings.
The group of men each individually came up with their list of 50, basing the list on on-court impact in the eight initial games and the playoffs. The lists were collected and averaged out based on where each member of the media had each player on their list.
This article caught heat quick from Pelicans fans and other NBA followers around the league and for good reason. It’s bad. It’s really bad.
The trio representing New Orleans includes Brandon Ingram (47), Jrue Holiday (26) and Zion Williamson (23).
Believe it or not — that first name and number — you read it correctly.
This list of experts placed Ingram at 47th on their collective list. The same Ingram who was a first-time All-Star (the All-Star rosters combined for the top available 25 players in the league), is in the running for NBA Most Improved Player, led the Pelicans in scoring and posted career highs in points (24.6), rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.3) per game. Oh, and he’s also posted a career best in free throw (85.8) and effective field goal (53.4) percentage.
In case you missed ESPN’s article, players like Brook Lopez (45), Robert Covington (44), Danilo Gallinari (40), Marcus Smart (38), Gordon Hayward (36) and Fred VanVleet (30) were ranked above B.I., none of whom were All-Stars this season. Those were just the glaring names — plenty more players from other squads were questionably ranked above Ingram. Players with less history of impactful play, players with worse stats and players who didn’t ascend to stardom this year...or ever.
There is no universe where Danilo Gallinari is better at basketball than Brandon Ingram. I could point out all those other names too...but this Gallinari is killing me.— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) July 16, 2020
Here’s another thing that makes these rankings a little more laughable: among this group of players prior to the season starting, Ingram was ranked 56th. Among other improvements, B.I.’s drastic shooting development should have skyrocketed him up ESPN’s latest list, but the young man from Kinston, North Carolina, moved up only nine spots after having the best year of his four-year tenure in the NBA.
In all likelihood, playing alongside Zion Williamson may have adversely affected the perception of Ingram. Zion is an otherworldly talent. What he’s done in 19 games this season is unparalleled by a rookie and he’s going to be phenomenal for years to come. Without a doubt, he had a hand in New Orleans improved play, but don’t forget that the Pelicans started winning before he made his debut in January. After starting 2019 with a 6-22 record, the Pels went on a tear, going 11-5 from December 18, 2019 to January 20, 2020.
Made the same point on this pod as Alvin Gentry just did in today's media availability with the #Pelicans.— Eliot Clough (@EliotClough) July 18, 2020
To paraphrase Coach Gentry -- this team started winning before Zion returned. This isn't so much of an adjustment as a return to a lot of what they did before his debut. https://t.co/ZZ2oODJmBc
Over that winning stretch, Ingram averaged just over 25 points per game, including a career-high 49 against the Utah Jazz on January 16. The Pels garnered wins over the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers, along with some close calls in losses to the L.A. Clippers (133-130) and Jazz (128-126) in that time frame.
Once play resumes in Orlando, New Orleans may need Ingram to grab the reins similarly again because Zion Williamson has left the bubble campus. Although he intends to return, no one knows how long a family medical emergency and quarantine will keep him away. The Pelicans may require a greater presence from Ingram on the court and so his vastly improved effectiveness could shine under the brightest lights of the season.
Brandon Ingram is impactful. He’s a hell of a lot more impactful than this list has given him credit for. The league is on notice and the so-called experts need to open their eyes. B.I. is an All-Star, and he’s here to stay.