The 2023 FIBA World Cup wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Team USA.
The United States was the heavy favorite to walk away with the gold medal in the Philippines, with Brandon Ingram hand-picked to be one of its main headliners.
Neither came close to fruition.
Head coach Steve Kerr told sports media that he envisioned the New Orleans Pelicans forward of filling a Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Durant type of role, resembling a stretch-4 scoring machine that’s previously given international opponents employing more traditional lineups a real headache.
Ingram, for his part, studied up on the two forerunners at that position by dissecting film footage. He was also seen working incredibly hard on his conditioning in preparation for the starring role at the Pelicans practice facility.
Instead, Ingram was a complete non-factor, becoming an afterthought on a squad that thoroughly failed to live up to the hype.
Team USA bowed out of the tournament with three losses in their final four games. They followed up a seventh-place finish in 2019 by missing out on the podium entirely once again after Sunday’s 127-118 OT loss to Canada in the semifinals.
In an effort to play small and fast, USA’s roster was routinely out-rebounded; however, no one envisioned such a poor defensive showing against legitimate competition. Giving up 110 points to Lithuania, 113 to Germany and 127 to Canada is mind-numbingly bad.
Remember, FIBA fields 40-minute regulation games, eight fewer than in the NBA.
Watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander score 31 points is understandable. But to have Dillion Brooks fall one point shy of 40 is not.
While this debacle is not be expected to repeat itself in Paris — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and others are committed to participating in the 2024 Olympics, New Orleans fans may have cast some doubts about one of their own for the upcoming season.
They shouldn’t have.
Don’t be alarmed by Ingram never morphing into a top scoring option or getting removed from the starting lineup on Team USA. Averages of 5.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 turnovers across six games deserve a poor grade on paper, but there’s no reason to believe it’ll carry over into the upcoming NBA season.
Ingram Miscast In His Role
While his legion of dedicated fans might disagree, Ingram isn’t a superstar. He’s not automatically the best player when he steps out onto the floor in every game. He’s not an elite athlete, neither quicker, stronger or twitchier than most. FIBA rules providing for greater physicality and less spacing were glaring issues. Getting asked to fill an unfamiliar role while not possessing a more well-rounded game that can contribute in other areas served as additional handcuffs.
During the first few warm-up games, there was an opportunity for Ingram to grab the reins of the offense. The team’s balanced scoring was a clear indicator. Anthony Edwards and Jalen Brunson were not dominating possessions yet. However, BI appeared content to remain in a secondary role, looking more often to make a play for a teammate rather than himself. He rarely got to his spots on the floor.
There’s little doubt that once several leaders stepped forward, Ingram proved uncomfortable playing off the ball. There was almost no evidence of catch-and-shoot attempts. Cuts to either create or find space were few and far between. He spent too many possessions standing in either corner, watching the action unfold in front of him — there was no resemblance to Team USA’s Carmelo Anthony.
“This is totally different than what I am used to,” Ingram told The Athletic. “The team is winning right now, so I can’t be selfish thinking about myself. But it’s a little frustrating right now for me, and I’m just trying to figure out ways I can be effective.”
While players like Austin Reeves and Mikal Bridges adapted, Ingram never found a similar comfort zone. Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the USA coaching staff never seemed to help him find a solution.
He’s Still “B.I.”
Clear lines of communication have always helped get the most out of Ingram’s game. Case in point, his greatest successes in New Orleans have come under the stewardships of Alvin Gentry and Willie Green, not so when Stan Van Gundy stood at the helm.
Although this international experience likely ensures no future appearances on Team USA, it should not affect Ingram’s standing in the league.
The Pelicans have built a roster around he and Zion Williamson. It requires Ingram to shoulder a lot of the offensive responsibilities. To his credit, he’s been groomed for that role and has worked immensely hard to reach the lofty goals set by he and the organization. He’s a true three-level scorer, becoming much more decisive upon the catch under Green. His playmaking has never been as proficient as was witnessed to close out the last campaign. He’s emerged as a favorite in the locker room.
Brandon Ingram is who we thought he was. That’s far from a bad thing for the New Orleans Pelicans. And with him playing for a new contract in the near future, the best is probably yet to come as he’s decided to bet on himself.
The new CBA guidelines outline the path to a much richer extension. Between his international showing and the potential for more lucrative payday, expect Ingram to enter next season fully motivated and ready to participate in the vast majority of games, hopefully leading the Pelicans to greater heights.
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