Brandon Ingram’s Development As A Passer Raises Pelicans’ Ceiling

Since the beginning of February, Brandon Ingram has embraced a heavier playmaking role for the Pelicans. He’s averaging 6.6 assists a night across those 16 games; Ingram never averaged over six assists per game in any season. What’s allowing Ingram to level up as a passer late in the season?

New Orleans asks Ingram to initiate pick-and-rolls at the top of the key with increasing success. Ingram draws significant defensive attention due to his shot making prowess and is learning to exploit that defensive attention for high-value passes.

Compared to the rest of the season, we can see a slight shift in passing tendency, confirmed by the numbers. Over the first 44 games of Ingram’s season, Jonas Valanciunas was his most frequent target, the recipient of 41 of his 247 (16.6%) total assists. But over his last 16, Ingram’s passing is more balanced and agnostic. Ingram has assisted JV just eight times out of his 105 assists (7.6%) 

As a playmaker, Ingram fixates on the weak-corner skip, an especially valuable pass for a gigantic handler who draws two often and sees over the entire defense. By my count, 15 of those 105 assists came on skip passes where Ingram showcases fantastic vision and patience.

Ingram’s target share has shifted towards the wings, as Trey Murphy, CJ McCollum and Herb Jones are now his most common assist recipients. He’s spraying passes to the wings more as teams pack the paint against Zion Williamson. When teams help to cover Ingram, he’s getting better at punishing rotations with the pass. 

He still wins as an off-ball passer, especially with Zion on the floor. This pass out of Chicago action (pin down into DHO) is somewhat of a signature, emptying the side to simplify the passing reads and Ingram always delivers.

Ingram isn’t a perfect passer. He could pass with a bit more velocity and accuracy, especially on skips. He could process the floor a bit quicker, especially as the primary ballhandler. But Ingram’s passing opens up so much for him and the Pelicans’ offense, creating good shots for himself and others.

Without a real playmaking guard on the roster, the Pelicans shifted playmaking responsibilities to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Growing as passers not only raises the ceiling for Ingram and Zion but helps the offense maintain crucial rhythm and flow the Pelicans can sometimes lack. And Ingram’s development as one of the better wing passers in the league may allow for New Orleans to reach the ceiling it always could.

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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