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Brandon Ingram should be the frontrunner for the 2020 NBA Most Improved Player Award

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He’s the only player ever to do 24.3 points with 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 38.7 percent from three within his first four seasons

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

There may be 88 regular “seeding” games remaining in the 2019-20 season, but the NBA has announced those contests will not count towards the annual performance awards, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

There’s a fair argument for this decision considering eight teams won’t be participating in Disney’s Campus tournament.

“The decision to exclude seeding games from awards voting ensures a fair process in which players and coaches from all 30 teams will have the same opportunity to be honored,” Shams tweeted.

The New Orleans Pelicans most famous face is last summer’s first overall draft selection. Despite appearing in just 19 games, Zion Williamson became the only player in NBA history to score 23.6 points with 6.8 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field. Many felt he would have challenged Ja Morant for the Rookie of the Year Award had the coronavirus pandemic not suspended action.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin is another worthy candidate, having moved Anthony Davis for a variety of blue-chip caliber youth and assets and signing JJ Redick plus acquiring Derrick Favors from the Utah Jazz.

Jrue Holiday should be considered a favorite to end up on an All-Defensive team for the third consecutive year. Jrue graded in the 96th percentile in deflections and 99th percentile in guarding both All-Stars and All-NBA players according to BBall-Index.

These are all good nominees for several categories; however, the Pelicans inarguable favorite for a regular season award is none other than Brandon Ingram.

From trade chip to bonafide All-Star, Ingram’s leap from secondary scorer to All-NBA level efficiency shocked many. Yes, we knew he could get buckets, but it was the manner in which he did it that was so surprising.

Ingram became one of just four players to score at least 24.0 points per game (he finished 15th in scoring overall at 24.3 points per game) with a three-point percentage of 38.7 or better. The three others were Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.

In fact, Ingram became the fifth forward (tenth player overall regardless of position) to ever post a line of 24.3/6.3/4.3 by his fourth season.

Brandon Ingram is also the only player ever to post those numbers in his first four seasons while shooting 38.7 percent from three. The next closest is Tracy McGrady at 35.5 percent.

With the size and length to shoot over literally anyone, Ingram also showed the patience to navigate pick-and-rolls as both an initiator and finisher, finishing in the 100th percentile as a roll man.

As an isolation scorer, Ingram was one of the best (13th) and most frequent (12th). His ability to draw contact has helped him rank in the 84th percentile in points per 100 shot attempts despite often attracting All-NBA level attention.

His most seismic leap came from beyond the arc. Ingram sank 2.4 threes per game despite having never averaged one in his previous three seasons, grading in the 80th percentile after finishing in the 27th during the 2018-19 campaign.

In general, few impacted games offensively more than Ingram who finished in the 90th percentile in PIPM, according to BBall-Index.

Despite a 6-22 start against the NBA’s most difficult schedule, Ingram played a huge hand in keeping the Pelicans afloat within games. Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors combined to miss 81 games between them during that horrid stretch so Ingram was charged with carrying much of the burden on a nightly basis.

“He played at a real high level,” Alvin Gentry said to media today. “I’ll be very disappointed if he’s not the Most Improved Player in the league because I think he took a tremendous jump this year in making the All-Star team, but just overall being able to be that guy that we can count on at the end of the game and go to him at the end of the game. You saw what happened in our Utah game at home: we needed a big possession and a big shot, and he came up with it for us.”

Ingram has tallied 30 points or more on 11 occasions during the 2019-20 season, including an earth-shattering 49 points on just 25 shots in an overtime January 16th victory against the Jazz in that game Gentry referenced. Only 13 players have scored as many or more on the season.

While Ingram’s scoring surge (18.3 to 24.3) remains his most notable statistic, he improved his playmaking and rebounding numbers significantly, dishing out 4.3 assists per game with 6.3 rebounds.

Not one to serve as just a primary initiator, Ingram meshed perfectly when the Pelicans were healthy helping to form the best starting lineup in the NBA based on net rating (minimum 180 minutes).

While Ingram’s defensive lapses are worthy of consideration, it’s important to consider exactly what he was asked to do on a nightly basis. With a 91st percentile grade in defensive position versatility (BBall Index), Ingram was asked to defend more positions than nearly anyone else in the NBA and some of its best as he defended those deemed “mega creators” 4.3 percent of the time (77th percentile, BBall Index).

New Orleans win-loss record may deter voters from selecting the Slenderman over Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo, but there’s hope Brandon Ingram can still walk away with the MIP Award thanks to vast improvement which led to an unprecedented campaign.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @PrestonEllis.