Pelicans’ Ingram caps breakout season with MIP

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram capped off a breakthrough season by winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award Monday night.

Ingram, who will turn 23 on Wednesday, set career highs in points (23.8), rebounds (6.1), assists (4.2) and steals per game (1.0), along with 3-point percentage (39.1) and free throw percentage (85.1) in his first season in New Orleans after being part of a package of young players and picks sent to the Big Easy in exchange for Anthony Davis last summer.

That turnaround would’ve been impressive enough on its own for Ingram, who also made his first All-Star Game appearance this season. But it took on further significance because a blood clotting issue that forced Ingram’s 2018-19 season with the Lakers to come to a premature ending, and left him thankful that he was able to return to the court at all, he said during an interview Monday night with TNT.

“First I want to say to God be the glory, without him I wouldn’t be healthy,” Ingram said. “I wouldn’t have had the chance to get back on the basketball court. It goes back to last March, me getting injured and [not] being able to get back on the court until September. That was very little time to come into and start preseason and start the regular season. I was ready for it.

“Since day one coming in talking to [former coach] Alvin Gentry and [executive vice president of basketball operations] David Griffin and some of the trainers on the team, I just wanted to put in my work every single day and just get the best out of this year. Alvin Gentry gave me a good opportunity to go out there and do what I wanted to do.”

Ingram was notified of winning the award by his parents, while on a call with Pelicans owner Gayle Benson and teammate Lonzo Ball. Ingram clearly was confused at first, before slowly realizing what was happening as his mother continued talking.

“I’d like to say on behalf of the entire organization, your teammates and our fans, I want to congratulate you on this incredible accomplishment. We couldn’t be happier, and more proud, that you and your parents are part of our Pelicans family,” Benson said. “You’re being honored today in part for your talent, but for your incredible work ethic and tireless desire to improve.”

Ingram earned a narrow victory over Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, collecting 326 points (and 42 out of 100 first-place votes) to edge out Adebayo’s 295 points (including 38 first-place votes) in voting done by a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

They were followed by Dallas Mavericks standout Luka Doncic, who had 101 points (and 12 first-place votes), Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum (57 points, three first-place votes) and Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham (50 points, two first-place votes).

So far, the NBA has named Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse its coach of the year and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo its defensive player of the year. Three awards remain: Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. Because of the changes to the NBA schedule, the awards are not being handed out at a season-ending awards show, as they have been in recent years, but instead throughout the playoffs as they previously were.

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