Brandon Ingram won’t leave the court.
The New Orleans Pelicans just lost to the Utah Jazz. Ingram and his team put together a furious second-half comeback but they couldn’t make enough shots or get enough stops. As Pelicans players meander over to the other side of the court to talk with friends and former teammates on the Jazz, Ingram waits in the corner of the court closest to the New Orleans locker room.
One by one, as players file off the court, Ingram is the last face they see — one last handshake, one last high-five, one final “nice job” as the team heads to the locker room to process what happened.
“It’s something Tim Duncan used to do. Obviously, he has really high character,” Ingram told The Times after that loss. “I know that if I’m doing that, I’ll have guys here that know that I still have their backs. I’m still here, win or lose, never get too high, never get too low.
“I’m here regardless.”
Thirteen games into his stint with the New Orleans Pelicans, and it’s clear that Ingram will be “here” for a long time. There’s no doubt that if Ingram stays healthy this season, a maximum, four-year contract worth around $130 million is waiting for him this summer.
Like a fish moved from a bowl to a pond, Ingram’s grown as he’s been given more responsibility, more shots — things that wouldn’t have happened if he were still sharing a locker room with LeBron James in Los Angeles.
While most eyes will be on Anthony Davis’ return to New Orleans on Wednesday, it’ll also be the Lakers’ first chance to see what they lost — a player who is turning into a star himself.
Ingram’s in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring, averaging 26.1 points per game. He’s one of three players in the league to average at least 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The other two? Dallas Mavericks “Wonderboy” Luka Doncic and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
It’s not like the Lakers could’ve waited to find out what Ingram could become, either. Ingram’s inclusion in the deal that netted the team their second superstar was always going to include Ingram. He was a must.
Ingram is not mad that his three years with the Lakers ended with plenty of losing, role changes and trade rumors.
“I have respect for the organization because they drafted me,” Ingram said. “They made my dreams come true.”
What the Lakers couldn’t provide was a space for Ingram to grow, at least not after they signed James in free agency before the 2018 season. That, combined with a landing spot in maybe the most offensively conducive system in the NBA with Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans, has Ingram on the verge of an All-Star berth.
“But I don’t think it’s just coming from the Lakers. I think anybody that comes here from any other team ... we allow a lot of stuff. We allow a lot of freedom. That’s what I believe in,” Gentry told The Times. “I think it was all of it. It was kind of a perfect storm for him. Hey, if you’ve got LeBron James, you’re going to give him the ball.”
Ingram has clearly asserted himself as the No. 1 offensive option for New Orleans. Even after slow starts in his last three games, Ingram isn’t shy about continuing to try to score.
“He’s not going to ever stop,” Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday said. “He knows he’s a bucket. He knows they’ll eventually drop.”
New Orleans is dropping more than ever from three-point range, where Ingram is attempting 5.7 per game and making 45.9% — just one of four players in the league to take five threes per game and make at least 45%.
Before this season, his deficiency from three-point range was considered a major weakness and something he hoped to fix in the summer. But surgery to remove blood clots from his shoulder cost him almost the entire offseason, leaving him only a month of on-court work before the season began.
“I was worried about that,” Gentry said. “But, you know, the minute he was able to get on the court, man, he was putting in work. Unbelievable work.”
Ingram said he changed his shot — he has a quicker release that’s less like a slingshot. He’s also been empowered to take it whenever he’s open. He only lacks improvement in his playmaking ability.
“He believes in his talent. That’s good,” Gentry said. “We’re going to continue to try and get him to understand that ball movement and passing and cutting, he could do the same things with less work.”
The willingness to learn is there. Gentry said Ingram’s the type of player you can go to with mistakes on film right after a game. He wants to be great and he knows honest critique is a part of that process.
He’s also hard on himself.
“I don’t think I’ve been a great leader. I’ve been a leader on offense. For me to be a leader, I’ve got to be really, really good on both ends. I’ve got to give maximum effort at all times,” Ingram said. “I’ve been doing an OK job, but I haven’t given maximum effort on every single play. Once I do that and figure out a way to make everyone else better and confident on the basketball floor, than I’ll feel good in calling myself a leader.”
It hasn’t been as easy on Ingram’s former Lakers teammates who were part of the Davis deal. Both have been fighting injuries. Lonzo Ball made his return last week but is struggling to find his shot. Josh Hart is nearing a return from a sprained ankle.
When they trip, though, Ingram will be there. He’s shown that during his time in New Orleans.
During the loss to the Jazz, Holiday had an open three at the top of the key to cut Utah’s lead to three, the kind of shot that could’ve swung momentum to the Pelicans. He missed.
The first player to talk to him? Ingram.
“He said, ‘Great shot. Great shot,’” Holiday said. “I feel like people don’t really hear him speak, hear him talk.”
But they’re watching him play. His teammates are hearing him lead. And the Pelicans, they’re happy he’s here.