Brandon Ingram’s ears perked up. New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green spoke loudly and with strong conviction on where Ingram and Zion Williamson fit in the NBA landscape.
“I’m going to keep saying it – best freaking duo in the NBA,” Green said, while pointing to Ingram and Williamson. “They don’t talk about ya’ll enough.”
Perhaps they will now.
The Pelicans (30-21) rank sixth in the Western Conference following a four-game winning streak that just included a signature victory over the LA Clippers. Both Ingram (15 points, six assists) and Williamson (21 points, 10 assists) shared playmaking and ball-handling duties while veteran CJ McCollum assumed a predominantly scoring role (25 points).
After both became plagued with injuries during their previous four seasons, Ingram (51 games) and Williamson (40) have played the majority of New Orleans’ games in the 2023-24 campaign. That represents a significant variable on whether Ingram and Williamson can meet Green’s expectations.
Brandon Ingram interview (Exclusive)
“When you hear stuff like that, it’s a confidence builder,” Ingram told Sportskeeda. “It’s all opinionated. It makes sense for us to fight for what we want. He knows what we ultimately want out of our careers and what we want out of being in New Orleans. He’s the one that has to coach us, inspire us and motivate who we want to be.”
Ingram spoke to Sportskeeda about his growth during his eighth NBA season, not being named an NBA All-Star and his dynamic with Williamson and McCollum. Ingram also touched on Williamson improving his conditioning and on how the late Kobe Bryant inspired him.
Editor’s note: The following one-on-one interview has been edited and condensed.
You all have gotten some wins against top teams this season (Clippers, Nuggets, Knicks, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Minnesota). What do you think that means in the big picture?
“I think it’s good because it’s right around All-Star break. We have a chance to lock in. We have to lock in before this All-Star break. It shows where guys’ heads are going into All-Star break. We’re not relaxing too much. We’re just coming in and still know we have an opportunity. We have to continue to do what we do.”
What do you think that also tells you about what it could mean for the playoffs?
“I’m not sure yet. We’re still getting better. We don’t know if we’ll be a different team. But we do know we’ll be a better team by the time the playoffs start. We just have to continue to find different ways to win basketball games. It’s about discipline, knowing the points of the game and everybody being on the same page, being dialed in at the right time and a little bit of luck. Then with our talent meshing, we can get the best out of everybody. I continue to look forward to the season and all the challenges that are coming with trying to make our team better. I’m looking forward to a lot of winning nights and a lot of learning.”
How do you compare your 8th season to your other seasons?
“The biggest difference is winning. We got a winning record so far. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had that in my NBA career. It’s fun. It’s different stories with each win. There are different lessons. But it’s all fun. I’m playing with some really, really good players that are professional. They can shoot the 3, from midrange and can get all the way to the rim. We got some defenders here. It’s just good to see everything to come together. We’re continuing to learn.”
How about with your game with putting everything together with your usual toolbox with your midrange along with your 3s and facilitating? [Ingram has averaged 21.8 points on 49.5% overall and 37.4% from 3 along with 5.7 assists per game].
“Every night is different. Some nights, it’s a double team. Some nights, it’s one-on-one coverage. It’s been fun to see the different coverages each night and just try to figure it out. But I’ve been feeling good about it. The defenses have been challenging me to do different stuff. I try to tailor the game, whether it’s passing, shooting the 3 or getting to my bread-and-butter with my midrange and getting all the way to the rim and shooting free throws. The game calls for something different every single night. That’s something I’ve noticed more and more. Being around talented players, you got to be effective in different ways. With us, there are guys who can create. So you got to be able to play off ball or catch-and-shoot or cut to the basket. We got two guys that can create in Zion and CJ. So, we got to be able to adapt off of them and still be effective in a big way.”
When do you feel it’s most effective to tap into your midrange, attacking the rim, shooting the 3 or passing?
“I just see how defenses close out. Sometimes they close out short because they know that midrange is part of my game. So they try to take it off. So, that’s the time to shoot the 3 ball. When guys are overly aggressive, I can get all the way to the rim. I think my midrange is always there. I think I can always create that in transition or posting up, whatever it is. But it depends on how aggressive the defense is guarding me. Sometimes, defenses guard me from 94 feet. Sometimes, they let me get to the 3-point line. Sometimes, they deny me. It’s different every single night.”
Willie [Green] credited your regimen with your weight training, treatment and rest with helping your availability this season. What did that look like overall?
“It’s just maintenance and making sure that my body is feeling pretty good every day. Going into practice, I’m going into the weight room every single day and just having intention with what I’m doing. I’m just having a routine. I’ve been around a lot of good players and a lot of players in general where they’ve been successful because they have consistency. That’s what I try to do every single day – try to be consistent.”
How similar or different is that routine compared to your other seasons?
“It’s been the same. But I’m trying to go hard and I’m trying to be focused. Right now, it’s just about me trusting my work a little bit more. I’d like to say that I maybe I overworked myself a little bit to where I’m not as fresh on gameday. So I tried to cut that out a little bit and find my chance to rest. It’s hard to sit down sometimes. But I find time to rest, so I can feel refreshed.”
Statistically, you’ve had bigger numbers in other years. But given your growth as a player and your team chemistry, do you feel like this is your best season?
“Not yet. Not yet. But at the end of the season, I’ll be able to tell you a little bit better. It all depends on how I play after All-Star and the postseason with how focused I am and disciplined I am with my work and seeing the results from my work.”
How did it land with you that you weren’t named an All-Star considering your play and that you’re on a winning team?
“I do an assessment of myself every year. I know when I am or not going to make All-Star. For our group, it was different. I’m playing with two other stars. Our numbers are all down. Everybody is averaging a little bit above 20 [points per game] and we’re sixth in the West. We’re not top five in the West. So I knew already I wasn’t going to be an All-Star. But I feel like every year that helps me prepare for after All-Star. I don’t plan on missing any more All-Stars. But there’s always motivation with not making that thing and continuing on. I know I can play with a lot of guys in this league, and some of the best guys in this league. It’s just continuing to show every single day. I don’t know how it’s voted. But it’s voted by all people, right?”
Coaches pick the reserves.
“That’s crazy because the coverages from the coaches, they all send double teams at me. Yet, they don’t vote me for All-Star (laughs). But my inspiration comes from me playing not up to my standards. When I don’t play up to my standard, that’s motivation to keep me going. At certain points, it hits where everything is clicking. For me, it’s usually right around this time at All-Star [break] where I have a couple of games under my belt to develop a rhythm.”
How does Zion’s season compare to other seasons?
“It’s been one of his healthier seasons. That’s a plus, for sure. He’s continuing to have his rhythm. He’s been really, really good for us in this league. We continue to win games, and he’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing. I think he’s been great with how he’s handled his situation and how he’s done things. It’s been great for our team.”
Similar to what I was asking you about how you choose when to shoot and when to pass, how have you seen Zion decide when to playmake, go downhill or show his range?
“It’s funny because he can score on three or four [people]. He has such a great touch around the rim, and he can score on three people and it looks effortless. He’s got such a big body that he can get there. I think it just determines on him being aggressive and then teams are throwing multiple bodies into the lane. They try to go in front of him to make him pass. But I feel like he’s one of those guys that can score any time he wants to score.”
From your lane, what have you seen him to do try to improve his conditioning and be more consistently available this season? That’s always been the knock on him, yet you all always defend him.
“He can tell you better than I can. But he’s taking things more seriously and making sure he’s doing his conditioning [work] before and after games. On practice days, he’s doing extra work. He’s working on different stuff to keep himself engaged and keep himself healthy. I think he’s been doing those things on off days and game days to make sure he’s prepared. He’s ready to play. He’s played more games at the beginning of the season than we all have in previous season. He’s ready to play.”
What did you think when Willie said you and Zion are the best duo in the league?
“It’s something for us to look forward to. He’s in the gym with us every single day. He knows our capabilities. When you hear stuff like that, it’s a confidence builder. It’s all opinionated. It makes sense for us to fight for what we want. He knows what we ultimately want out of our careers and what we want out of being in New Orleans. He’s the one that has to coach us, inspire us and motivate who we want to be. That’s part of him doing it.”
There are so many good duos in the league. What do you think makes you and Zion unique?
“There are lot of good duos in the league. We have to work up to being as consistent as the other ones with Dallas, the Lakers, Milwaukee, the Celtics. We have to work up on being consistent every single night. That’s how we get better. It’s about learning to play off of each other, learning to play in the isos and learning where each other’s spots are. There are a lot of things that we have to learn. But we’re talented and young. We’re ready to go.”
It appears the group really looks at that team meeting following the five-game losing streak earlier in the season as a turning point. How did you view that?
“I thought it was needed. I thought it was needed for people to get some stuff off their chest with the direction of our team and what we’re going to do. From that point on, we’ve had some ups and downs. But we know what our intentions are. We know what we want to do. We know what we want to get out of each game. We’ve been having success. We’ve had some slippage in a couple games. But we’ve been able to pick things back up and be better.”
What was your message in that meeting?
“I actually can’t remember my message. It was a long time ago. But it was about having intention behind everything and trying to figure out what team we want to be and see what type of team we would have to be. It was just about getting everybody’s honest opinion about where we are, who we could be at the end of the year, who we are now and the plan for everything. We just wanted to hear each other’s voice, and I think it was helpful. Everybody is cool with each other. But sometimes when everybody is family and good with each other, it’s hard to be honest sometimes. Completely honest. We’ve had points where we could be completely honest. That was the point in the meeting.”
I also saw that part of it was about Zion wanting to have the ball in his hands more, not necessarily just to score, but so he can initiate more. How have you seen that change since then?
“It’s something that Coach mentioned to us, and that it could change the dynamic of our team, especially when he’s out there and we have spacers on the floor with me, CJ and Herb [Jones] with how he knocks shots down. JV [Jonas Valanciunas] can occasionally knock down shots, too, so when he has in the ball and causes so much attention, he helps us play off of him a little bit. It’s different. There are more catch-and-shoots and faster decisions off of closeouts.”
In what ways has CJ helped you both as being part of the team’s trio and as a mentor?
“He brings a vocal leadership and experience on the floor. With his dribbling game, he’s able to create, shoot and get to the basket. He’s another creator for us. The way he handles every day, he’s a real professional. He puts basketball first at all times. He’s coming in and getting his work in. He’s doing his recovery. He’s getting in the gym early. He’s on the court with the same routine. I think it’s a sign of professionalism. He does it every single day, and you see the results. That’s something that we look to and try to mimic.”
In light of the Lakers unveiling Kobe Bryant’s statue, what did he mean to you growing up?
“Just thinking about what he did for the game, his approach and what he meant for everybody, he’s somebody that you look to because he stayed on his path. He wasn’t worried about anybody else. His main objective was to win. He showed everybody that he would outwork everybody. When I grew up, I stayed on the East Coast and I was up at 10 pm trying to watch games. I’m going to stay up. My mom and dad never made me go to sleep at that time. They let me watch that game. To catch the West Coast games, it always felt like he was always making big shots and he was always there on time. That’s inspiring to be reliable. That’s something that I look to. That’s something I want to be someday.
You and Kobe Bryant missed each other by a year. But what stuck with you when you were able to link up with him?
“I didn’t have a chance to pick his brain. It was more of a ‘hi and bye.’ I never got a chance. I feel like, at this point right now, that I wish he was here. It would very, very helpful to pick his brain right now with my situation. He’s surely missed. I know he had the world on edge when his situation happened with his passing. But he’s special. He’s special to us to everybody in the league. He’s special to a lot of people that don’t even watch basketball. He’s special.”