Art thou a role player
An NBA player’s fourth season in the league is a very pivotal point in their career. For most, this is the defining point on whether a player will be a career role player or if they can successfully transition into being a star. There are a few players who are exceptions to the rule such as Kawhi Leonard and Victor Oladipo: players who continued to ascend well after most players establish a baseline for what kind of player they are, but for most players year four is the pivotal year where you know without a doubt that player A is either a quality rotation player, a star, or bench warmer. It is safe to say after the first three years of Brandon Ingram’s career that barring injury he will at least be a serviceable role player for his remainder of time in the NBA. The question is: will he be a supremely talented role player who helps teams win championships as a third or fourth option who can have moments of brilliance like Lamar Odom or Robert Horry or is he destined for more? It is unquestionable in his first couple seasons in the league that he hasn’t been put in the best positions to succeed as a number 1 option. His first year in the league was the Kobe Bryant farewell tour which didn’t allow him to get up enough shots and had him coming off the bench when he probably should have been a starter. Year 2 he showed he had improved but he and Lonzo Ball struggled with injuries which cut his promising season short and left the Lakers with another losing record. Year 3 he showed the gradual improvements that you love to see from your young players but again he was hampered by injuries. His efficiency numbers went up and when Lebron wasn’t on the court he looked like he could give a team 20 plus points per game on efficient shooting percentages north of 47 percent. The issue is that at this point injuries had now become a narrative of his career and with the blood clot scare it was now endangering his future in the NBA. Fortunately, the blood clot issue was resolved and he is with the Pelicans in a brand new opportunity where he should be able to shine. The only problem is that the Pelicans have a new shiny star in Zion Williamson and a returning star in Jrue Holiday. The shots Brandon needs to establish himself as an elite scorer capable of leading teams as their franchise player will not be available for him in New Orleans. Normally, in the 4th season in the NBA, players become more adept at drawing fouls which allows them to score more on less shots. What might relegate Brandon to role player status is his lack of ability to draw fouls. Drawing fouls might be the only offensive skill he is currently lacking; and with the share-the-ball system they will most likely deploy with his new team, the most he can expect is about 15 to 16 shots a game. The higher scoring players in the league get around 18 to 20 shots a game. The difference between an 18 point per game scorer and a 25 point per game scorer in most cases is how many times a player gets to the line and capitalizes. What will determine if Brandon Ingram is destined for row player status or star status depends on a couple of things: 1) Can he stay healthy? and 2) Can he get to the free throw line more often and command the ball in New Orleans? If the answers to these questions are yes, then he won’t be a role player.
Art thou a star?
The start to Brandon Ingram’s career is not much different than Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Tracy McGrady. The major difference is that Brandon Ingram was much more efficient early on in his career than the others. Also, interestingly enough, the other players had issues staying in the game. The problem with the comparisons to the aforementioned players is that while they had their stretches of brilliance, injuries were always a problem and that could be a problem with Brandon Ingram as well. Another big difference between Brandon Ingram and the other players is that he has had the least stability. He has been with the Lakers during an impatient rebuild that has seen him traded but not to a team where he is the unquestioned start with the ability to put up the most shots. With Paul George and Kawhi, they were able to develop with the team that drafted them to become the stars they are today. Tracy McGrady was the only one of these players who had to find a different team before he started to realize his star potential. After showing signs of stardom with the Raptors he decided to leave and go with the Orlando Magic. McGrady is the closest comparison to what Brandon Ingram is going through: underappreciated in one place, ready to break out in another. Unlike McGrady, the team Brandon is now playing with is not suited for him to be a breakout star. The Pelicans own Brandon Ingram’s bird rights so he might not be able to walk after the end of the season, but he might need a chance to select a team in free agency that has an opening for an elite scorer. Maybe a team like the Hornets would be a good place for him to ascend to the elite status that most thought he could reach coming out of North Carolina.
Whether Ingram becomes a star or not, he is one of the NBA players that will be able to dictate his own future. Teams will always be willing to employ a multi faceted player who can score and initiate the offense. At his worst he is a better scoring Lamar Odom. If Ingram doesn’t pan out as a team’s star, he will end up being a great contributor off the bench or at a minimum an amazing third option with his scoring and passing ability. The major thing to worry about with Ingram is his health. If a team looks to bring him on – or if the Pelicans plan to keep him – they might need to deploy a Toronto Raptors style Kawhi Leonard load management plan to keep him healthy. If having a star player miss around 20 games a season isn’t a problem for your team in the grand scheme of playoff success, then you could possibly bet on Ingram and win big.