Brandon Ingram ended 2020 as the Western Conference Player of the Week. After three games to start in January, he could have easily won the award for a second week in a row. Ingram has scored 31 points in two of his last three games, but don’t let this recent surge of production make you think that this was just a random thought.
When Ingram was waiting to be taken in the 2016 NBA Draft, some scouts believed that Ingram had the talent to play like Kevin Durant. Last year, we saw that type of production when he averaged 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game, which led him to be named the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year.
Ingram’s play this season has started strong. Through eight games, Ingram has posted averages of 24.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. If he continues to play like this, not only will he be in the conversation for another All-Star appearance, but it could provide solace that he is living up to his former comparisons.
Kevin Durant’s Fifth Season
Durant has been a star since he entered the league. His lowest production came when he played his rookie season and averaged 20.3 points per game. By Durant’s fifth season, he was averaging 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. The Oklahoma City Thunder went from a no-name franchise to a contender in the Western Conference every season.
After Durant’s fifth season, he had been the league’s scoring champion in back-to-back seasons. While Ingram has improved, he has a lot of work to do if he is going to get anywhere near the level that Durant was by the time he was 23 years old.
Brandon Ingram’s Improvement
Some could argue that Ingram was not ready for Los Angeles. He gradually adjusted to the quickness of the NBA, but when he came into the league he was not ready to compete against many of the league’s most athletic players. You also can’t deny that playing under the bright lights of the Staples Center brings some lofty expectations, especially when you are the No. 2 overall pick.
Getting out of Los Angeles was the best thing that could have happened to Ingram. He was going through the motions and the Lakers were never deemed his team. When he arrived in New Orleans, it was a fresh start and it brought a chip on his shoulder. Ingram and Lonzo Ball were the crown pieces of the trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Lakers.
Since he arrived in New Orleans, his game has drastically changed. He improved his three-point shooting by nearly 6%. Along with his scoring, he was doing the little things. He was rebounding, making plays, and was active on defense. Ingram has gone from somebody that could be a regular starter to somebody that can make something happen with the ball.
If you watch enough tape on Ingram, you will notice that he has become more of a self-sufficient player. Ingram doesn’t look for others to set him up. He can create his shot and is more of a factor on offense. Compared to being used on offense 23% of the time in Los Angeles, the Pelicans use Ingram nearly 30% of the time.
Can Ingram Become The Next Kevin Durant?
Ingram might be a late bloomer and that’s okay. Right now, Durant is well-above above Ingram, while Ingram is creeping towards the starting point of Durant’s career. In terms of advanced analytics, Ingram’s highest win shares season came last year with a clip of 5.1. Durant’s career-best was 19.2 in his seventh season when he won an MVP.
There is nothing wrong with being a “great value” version of Durant. Even that is an All-Star, which Ingram proved last season. Ingram has to improve in nearly every aspect of his game. Luckily, he is a major part of Stan Van Gundy’s offense. His start to the season has to be included in the conversation for top-10 players in the league. The question is how much can he continue to grow?
In the end, the Pelicans have a 23-year old that will be with the team for the next five years as the face of the franchise. Kevin Durant or not, the Pelicans have a solid foundation building down south.