NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram has been named the NBA’s most improved player in a season that saw him bounce back from a life-altering blood clot and a trade from the team that drafted him second overall in 2016.
Ingram, who came to New Orleans as part of a blockbuster trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, averaged a team-leading and career-best 23.8 points per game while hitting 46.3% of his shots. He also became an NBA All-Star for the first time.
“It goes back to last March, me getting injured, and not being able to be back on the court until September,” Ingram said on a Zoom call Monday with TNT after being informed by his parents he had won the award. “That’s very little time to start preseason and to start the regular season, but I was ready for it. Since Day 1 ... I just wanted to put in my work every single day and just get the best out of it.”
Ingram credited former Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry for his success, saying the coach who was fired on Aug. 15 “gave me a great opportunity for me to go out there and do what I wanted to do.”
Ingram received 42 first-place votes from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters and earned 326 total points. He edged Miami Heat center-forward Bam Adebayo, who finished in second place with 295 points (38 first-place votes). Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic finished in third place with 101 points (12 first-place votes).
Ingram talked about his season earlier this month when he was a finalist for the award.
“It was a great year for me,” Ingram said. “People are seeing my work that I’ve put in, and it’s definitely shown on the basketball floor.”
The former Duke standout, who turns 23 on Wednesday, became a more dynamic scorer by significantly improving both his 3-point and free-throw shooting.
Ingram shot a career-best 39.1% from 3-point range, up from 33% from deep during his final season with the Lakers.
“First, it was me figuring out the mechanics and the right way to shoot the basketball ... shooting from my legs and stuff instead of my arms, just the consistency and how to shoot,” Ingram said. “Then it was the amount of attempts that I took, having the confidence to take those shots and continue to take those shots. I think that helped me with my confidence and continuing to make them.”
Ingram’s free-throw percentage rose from 67.5% last season to 85.1% this season.
Meanwhile, he remained largely healthy, playing and starting in all but 10 of New Orleans’ 72 games without experiencing a recurrence of the deep vein thrombosis in his right arm that sidelined him for his final 19 games with the Lakers.
The timing of his improved play — and the accompanying recognition — comes at a fortuitous time for Ingram, who is a restricted free agent this offseason. The Pelicans can either choose to offer him a maximum contract of about $167 million for the next five seasons or match any offer he agrees to with another team.
David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, has not yet detailed his plans for Ingram, but has been highly complimentary of him as both a player and person.
For his part, Ingram has shown little interest in leaving New Orleans, where he has an opportunity to continue playing with another former Duke star, 2019 No. 1 overall draft choice Zion Williamson.
“I’m enjoying where I’m at,” Ingram said.