It may be difficult to remember given how the season ended, but there was once a time early in the year when Zion Williamson had the New Orleans Pelicans surging in Brandon Ingram’s absence.
When Williamson went down on January 2nd, he had the Pelicans sitting at 23-14 and near the top of the Western Conference, despite Ingram being on the mend with a toe injury. This led some sects of the fanbase to wonder if the team was better off trading Ingram and bringing in better-fitting pieces around Williamson.
Those factions have since died down, as Williamson went on to miss the final 45 games of the regular season while Ingram carried the burden of the franchise in his absence. But the question still remains: if Williamson can stay healthy, should the Pelicans trade Ingram?
In a vacuum, no, they should not. First off, in their four seasons together as teammates (it’s crazy to think it has already been that long) Ingram and Williamson have only shared the court in 93 games – that’s likely not enough time to get an adequate feel for their on-court fit together.
The folks who have pushed for an Ingram trade think that we should move him to add more off-ball shooters in order to build a heliocentric offense around Williamson. That idea is flawed for a couple of reasons.
One, the people pushing for this are assuming that Ingram is not a good spacer, and that just isn’t the case. In the last three seasons, Brandon Ingram is shooting 44% on his wide-open 3-point attempts (per Thinkingbasketball.net). That ranks in the 86th percentile during that time. So yeah, he can definitely space the floor alongside Williamson.
Another error in this line of reasoning is the thought that Williamson can shoulder the Pelicans’ creation burden on his lonesome for an entire 82-game season (and a grueling playoff run). Health concerns aside, that’s a tall task for anyone, and the past few playoffs have shown us that you need multiple on-ball creators to make a deep playoff run (look what happened to the Golden State Warriors offense this postseason when Jordan Poole struggled to be that second creator next to Stephen Curry).
So, New Orleans needs Brandon Ingram to act as that second creator who can play alongside Williamson and help keep the offense afloat when he’s off the floor.
Lastly, people assume that just because Williamson and Ingram prefer to have the ball in their hands that they are somehow a bad fit for each other. In fact, we’ve seen before that pairing a great easy shot-getter (Williamson) with a great tough shot-maker (Ingram) can lead to a championship duo (a la Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant).
Now, this isn’t to say that under no circumstances should we trade Ingram. If you can get someone who is just straight-up better at the things Ingram does, I would definitely entertain that. But in most situations, it would be in the team’s best interest to keep him.