New Orleans Pelicans: Brandon Ingram cannot be the only option

Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans’ 118-116 overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers will provide lessons for Stan Van Gundy’s team in the long run.

The New Orleans Pelicans suffered their third defeat of the season after a last-minute meltdown in the fourth quarter.

The Pacers tied the game with two consecutive threes after being six points down with less than 30 seconds to go, and then clinched the win with mere seconds to go in overtime through a Malcolm Brogdon floater.

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This was a game the New Orleans Pelicans should have won, especially after a 19-2 run in the fourth quarter. New Orleans’ crunch time capitulation is not so much cause for concern as it is a statistical oddity.

Prior to the Pacers’ win on Monday night, NBA teams leading by 6+ points with less than 25 seconds to go in the game had a record of 8,104 wins to two losses. Players and coaches should both learn from this.

I wrote earlier this week that Brandon Ingram is playing like an MVP candidate to start the season. None of what I saw against Indiana persuades me to think otherwise. Ingram played 40 minutes, scored 31 points, and racked up eight assists. Through the Pelicans’ first seven games, the 6-foot-7 forward has been Stan Van Gundy’s sole offensive system for long stretches of time—and he’s largely excelled.

Ingram had another good game last night. He was aggressive both scoring and playmaking. The lanky Duke product has reached that point of his NBA career where the game has completely slowed down for him. He’s able to get to his spots whenever he wants and, if his jump shot isn’t falling, he has become increasingly adept at using his ballhandling and length to attack the rim.

It’s no coincidence that Ingram is averaging career-high free throw attempts. He got to the line six times last night and constantly punished one of the best frontcourts in the league. As far as I can tell, Ingram tried 11 shots that the NBA categorizes as lay-ups, showing his willingness to go up against the likes of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.

Ingram was also instrumental in getting his teammates going. He only had one turnover for his eight assists, many of which showed his improved vision and execution. Ingram manipulated the Pacers’ defense, attracting them to him and then finding another Pelican. His arsenal of passes was on display: pick-and-roll finds, skip passes to corner shooters, reads over the top of the Indiana defense, and even a Magic Johnson-esque lob pass for Zion Williamson.

Ingram’s tight handle at his size allows him to freeze opposing defenses and his height means he can see every spot of the floor. Below is my favorite pass of his against the Pacers, although there were plenty of candidates.

Throughout this season, Ingram has used Steven Adams’ screens to create space for himself and get into a pull-up jumper. Myles Turner thinks Ingram is going to do that again, so he meets him high off Adams’ screen to prevent this. Instead of shooting, Ingram counters Turner with a great pump fake, and then meets a rolling Adams with a perfect bounce pass for a dunk.

It was a passing masterclass from Ingram, but it’s no surprise that his last assist came with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ offense ground to a halt in the final moments of the game and it essentially became high pick-and-roll after high pick-and-roll between Ingram and Adams time and time again.

Despite being mostly defended by 180lb Justin Holiday, Williamson barely sniffed the ball. Lonzo Ball had made two big threes in the fourth quarter, but he was frozen out of the offense. The Pelicans want the ball in Ingram’s hands during the decisive moments of a game, but I don’t think this should be their only option.

New Orleans Pelicans: the Pels are relying on Brandon Ingram too much

Ingram is an incredible two-way talent; however, Van Gundy is relying on him far too much to be the team’s fire starter on offense to the point that it ignores the Pelicans’ natural flow. 12 of Ingram’s 31 shots last night came after there were less than four minutes remaining in the last quarter. In that amount of time (with four to go in the last period until the end of the game), only six shots were taken by someone else. That is an unhealthy reliance.

I went back and looked at the New Orleans Pelicans possessions down the stretch. It’s clear that Ingram suffered from tunnel vision, although it is impossible to tell how much of that is self-inflicted and how much is coach-directed. There were at least four or five instances where Ingram could have passed up a shot to find a teammate.

In the above clip, Ingram has Ball wide open on the wing. Ball entered the game shooting a measly 30 percent from three but was hot from beyond the arc against the Pacers. Instead of passing, Ingram takes an off-balance jumper that rattles out. It’s a makeable shot for him, but it’s also a bad shot.

One of the Pelicans’ best looks during overtime was when they used Ingram as a decoy. Williamson fakes the hand-off to Ingram off an inbound and instead takes it to the rim for a forceful and-one. This was a big bucket at a crucial moment of the game for New Orleans and it was achieved using Ingram as a decoy, rather than as the singular offensive option.

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A great performance from Ingram was ultimately tainted by a bad final stretch. The blame should not fall on him. He deserves to take potential game-winners and touch the ball a lot when games are close, but he cannot be the New Orleans Pelicans one-and-only in crunch time. There’s plenty of talent in this New Orleans squad and Stan Van Gundy needs to start doing more to maximize it when it matters most, as opposed to just giving Ingram the ball and letting him improvise as we’ve seen so far this season.