FIBA World Cup Could Propel Several Pelicans Forward — But No One More Than Brandon Ingram

The New Orleans Pelicans will be represented by five players in the upcoming 2023 FIBA World Cup proceedings: Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy and Herb Jones.

Jose Alvarado was expected to be the sixth Pelican, but he withdrew from the Puerto Rican team last week after agreeing to sit for precautionary reasons as he continues to recover from a tibial stress reaction.

Jones and Murphy should garner useful experience from their participation on the 2023 USA Men’s Select Team. Paying dues now will broaden their exposure and perhaps pave the way for a Team USA roster spot in the future. At the very least, Olympic and World Cup practices are renowned for hosting great, competitive battlegrounds. The duo will have the opportunity to pick the brains of more seasoned players while in the process of adding to their games.

Keep in mind though, Jones and Murphy will not appear on the main stage barring an unforeseen injury leading to a replacement pick on USA’s World Cup roster. They will not receive a taste of the pressure associated with representing one’s own country — but Ingram, Valanciunas, and hopefully Daniels, will.

Ingram and Valanciunas have already made the USA and Lithuania rosters respectively; Daniels must battle his way onto Team Australia by emerging as a selection from training camp running between Aug. 1-10. He will compete against 17 other players, featuring Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Josh Green and Josh Giddey. 12 names will be chosen to represent Team Australia at the end of the process.

“It’s going to be a good team, [a] tough team to crack, but I’m going to go out there and give it my best shot.” Daniels told The Sporting News. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to go over there to Japan and show them what I’ve got.”

While Daniels appears more likely than not of making Team Australia, the 20-year-old would certainly never be asked to carry his squad at this stage of his career. Valanciunas and Ingram, conversely, will be looked to lead their teams. It could specifically pay big dividends for the Pelicans star.

Valanciunas has a wealth of international experience under his belt but not Ingram. He’s new to this scene. NBA players utilizing international tournament experiences to elevate their games is not without precedent.

Kevin Durant carried the men’s team to the gold medal in the 2010 FIBA World Cup. He garnered MVP honors after setting a USA World Cup scoring record with 205 points in nine game. Many believe that showcase was an important step in Durant’s growth. The Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance, went from a first round exit to the NBA finals following Durant’s exploits in Istanbul, Turkey.

Other players who experienced international success and went on to lead their NBA teams to deeper playoff runs include Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony immediately became significantly greater playmakers in their careers. And Klay Thompson emerged from Stephen Curry’s shadow to become his peer after their 2014 World Cup march towards gold — the Splash Brothers went on to steer the Golden State Warriors to three of the next four Larry O’Brien Championship Trophies.

So the question begs, is Brandon Ingram poised to make some leap this summer? That’s difficult to answer for several reasons, but there’s hope.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old possesses a more well-rounded game than most making their Team USA debuts. Ingram was one of ten players to average at least 24 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season. His main issue has been a lack of availability, which continues to trend in the wrong direction.

Ingram also hasn’t needed to sit in the background of a more established star on the Pelicans for the last several years. While Zion Williamson may have more social media followers, it is clear to close followers of the team that Ingram is more highly regarded inside the locker room. He’s also earned the deep respect of peers around the league.

When asked who he is most excited to play with asides Jalen Brunson on Paul George’s podcast, Mikal Bridges named Ingram and Anthony Edwards.

Individual performance in key moments and the team’s overall success will largely dictate the future perception of Ingram. He’ll have the chance to either add or detract from his image.

There isn’t a discernible superstar on the 2023 USA roster. There’s no LeBron, Steph or KD. So setting the tone early or coming up with a big play or two late will be well within Ingram’s grasp as he’s expected to share those responsibilities with Brunson and Edwards, at least at the outset of these World Cup proceedings.

It is interesting to note NBA clutch numbers per 100 possessions of these three players from this past season. In terms of statistical production, Ingram was neck-and-neck with De’Aaron Fox, the 2022-23 KIA NBA Clutch Player of the Year.


The biggest measuring stick for all 12 members of the 2023 Team USA roster, though, will ultimately be on the color of the medal they bring home. Since allowing NBA players to participate, the United States has been the undeniable international powerhouse. So when the 2002, 2006 and 2019 rosters all came up short of standing on the top podium, those World Cup editions were all viewed as failures.

When examining these bitter disappointments though, an important distinction must be made. World Cup rosters are understandably not as strong as Olympic ones. US-born players do not show the same fervor representing one’s own country as their international brethren. CJ McCollum also once admitted that in addition to load management, “‘Why would I want to go potentially be the face of what could be a losing roster?'”

Players can obviously rebound from stinging defeats. The careers of Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, LeBron and Melo, for instance, were not dinged for losing to Greece in the 2006 World Cup semifinals. Pierce missing a number of free throws in the embarrassment of ’02 assuredly didn’t prevent him from winning a future championship and going down as one of the most clutch players in NBA history.

Based on his career arc, the upcoming World Cup appearance seems a natural progression for Ingram. He’s regarded as one of the best playmaking three-level scorers, who is entering his prime, but has yet to be blessed with multiple playoff runs in his career. He should have jumped at a World Cup opportunity — it says a lot about him that he did.

Ingram believes in his heart of hearts that he’s one of the best. He’s always sought to positively influence pivotal, pressure-packed minutes. Over the past year and a half, he’s finally been able to enjoy a lot more success in those key moments. But proving himself multiple times in front of the brightest lights remains a rarity. Now he’ll get that chance for all the world to see.

Brandon Ingram is voluntarily putting himself at risk for real criticism. Whether Team USA realizes its sole objective could boil down to several of his possessions. That’s a good thing, regardless of outcome, but helping lead an inexperienced USA group to a gold medal, armed with a game that appears ready for this precise moment, could vault him and the Pelicans up higher than most care to imagine in the standings.

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


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