Rising stars and fearless rookies are making sure the Pelicans pass the torch

Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 10:02 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:00 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Ever since he was drafted by the Lakers at No. 2 overall in 2016, Brandon Ingram’s name has been heard around the NBA. It would be easy to view him as the Pelicans’ grizzled veteran, but the kicker is that he’s only 24 years old.

When the newly LeBron James-led Lakers traded Ingram for Anthony Davis, there went his opportunity to become the next franchise star. There was hope in Hollywood that fate could have been for Ingram after the retirement of Kobe Bryant.

Impatience in La La Land has now become the good fortune of the Big Easy as the quiet forward who was once described as the “next Kevin Durant” has maximized his opportunity in a market that critics said could not be a basketball city.

“Brandon is playing some of his best basketball of the season,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green said. “And he’s doing it on the biggest stage. It’s great to see. He’s more than capable. I’ve said it before: He’s the real deal. He puts the work in practice and we’re seeing it on display.”

If anyone ever wondered if Ingram is a true NBA superstar, they need not wonder any longer. Currently, in the postseason, Ingram is putting up averages of 29.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 5 apg. He’s also shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point range.

“I feel it’s our time,” Ingram responded after Game 4. “We’ve worked so hard throughout the year to become a better team. We finally get the chance to be on a really, really big stage and continue to play together. My teammates have been helping me out a lot, putting me in the right spots, passing me the ball in the right areas. Just making me look good. It’s been a team effort. I just love playing with the guys.”

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As the squad on the floor fights for success under their new commander, the torch has been passed and the ghosts of bygone eras are being defeated.

In the Pelicans’ 118-103 win over Phoenix in Game 4, their rookies sent the message that their permanent time in New Orleans is now by showing no fear in front of an old familiar face.

At the 3:29 mark in the 4th quarter, fans physically saw the torch be passed when former Chris Paul reached out his hand to help rookie Herb Jones off the floor. In response, Jones stared at Paul, refused his hand, and waited for the reach of a fellow Pelican.

“We’re just tremendously blessed to have Jose, to have Herb, two guys that were Defensive Players of the Year in their conference, (who do) the same thing here,” Green said. “They love playing defense, have great instincts, and go out and compete like that every time they step on the floor.”

While most New Orleans sports fans are appreciative of the six years Paul gave the city after being drafted in 2005, the fact of the matter is that his legacy, which comes with the franchise’s failure to capitalize on it, no longer has to haunt the Pelicans.

“These rookies are fearless,” Pelicans reserve big Larry Nance Jr. said. “They don’t back down. They act like they’ve been here before. It’s no surprise. Herb, Jose, these guys are four-year guys, so they’ve matured both physically and mentally, and are ready to be in these situations.”

Every time Herb Jones and undrafted rookie guard Jose Alvarado harass Paul on the defensive end without fear, it sends the message that the future is now for New Orleans. The team and its fans no longer have to bow down to former glory.

Glory is now.

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