LOS ANGELES – One is a multi-dimensional scorer, able to damage defenses from every area of the floor. He’s only 22. The other is a physical marvel, athletic enough to sky over everyone, but also strong enough to bully his way to the hoop in the low post. He’s only 19.
The future seems beyond bright for the New Orleans forward tandem of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, but the present is starting to match that. Case in point: Tuesday’s dual performance against the Lakers, in which the rising talents combined to score 63 points. Ingram (34 points) and Williamson (29 points) totaled 20 baskets and 20 free throws, causing consistent problems for the NBA’s fourth-rated defense, albeit in a 118-109 loss.
In a game that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, both players had dominant stretches. Ingram recorded double-digits points in the first and third periods; Williamson did the same in the second stanza. Having now played together for 10 games, it was the highest combined scoring output for the forwards since they first teamed up in Williamson’s Jan. 22 debut.
“I think it was only a matter of time,” Williamson said, when asked about the effectiveness of he and Ingram’s relatively new combo. “We’re 13 games in (Williamson’s career). The chemistry eventually was going to be fine. I think we’re finding it.”
“We just have to figure out what spots are most effective for each other,” Ingram said midway through the Pelicans’ 2-1 road trip. “That’s him in the paint, or him curling off of me. With us continuing to play together, we’ll figure it out. You’ve got two talented players on the floor, with other guys who are talented. I think it will all work itself out.”
It helps that both men have proven to be willing and effective passers, a skill Williamson needed immediately when San Antonio threw double-teams at him the moment he stepped on the hardwood Jan. 22. Meanwhile, Ingram is averaging a career-best 4.3 assists per game, including bumping that up slightly in the 10 games he’s played with Williamson. Opposing coaches have taken note of New Orleans’ unselfishness as a team – the Pelicans lead the NBA in assists in February – as well as that of the No. 1 overall draft pick.
“Any time people are sending double-teams at (Williamson), it seems like he’s just kicking the ball back out to the perimeter,” Golden State’s Steve Kerr said. “He looks like he really knows how to play and is very unselfish. He’s a handful.”
“(When preparing to face New Orleans) we talk about their three-point shooting, we talk about their transition, and Brandon Ingram is an All-Star averaging 20-plus points. (Williamson is) certainly part of it, but their whole team is playing well right now. They’ve got a lot of good shooters. All of the players kind of fit now that they are healthy. They’re a very talented team and a talented roster.”
Technically Williamson hasn’t played in enough games to qualify for the NBA’s official scoring leaders, but his average of 23.3 places him 20th in the league. Ingram is averaging 24.7, giving the Pelicans a player in the top 15 of point production. Only three other NBA teams have a pair of top-20 scorers, a group that includes Houston (James Harden, Russell Westbrook), the Lakers (Anthony Davis, LeBron James) and Minnesota (Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell). Since Williamson’s debut, the Pelicans are shooting 39.4 percent from three-point range; prior to that, their rate was 37.0.
“It’s changed our dynamic,” Ingram said of Williamson being in the lineup for the last month-plus. “I think we’ll get even more open threes on the perimeter, with the attention he causes. We have to continue to put pressure on the rim – that will open up more threes for us and help us continue to find our identity on the offensive end.”
“We’ll just feed off each other,” Williamson said. “(Ingram is) a great player – he can get to the basket at will, he can hit the jumper whenever and knock down the three. As a teammate, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to make that easier for him.”