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Duke in the NBA: Brandon Ingram making a case for Most Improved Player Award

<p>Brandon Ingram has emerged from the pack on a struggling Pelicans squad.</p>

Brandon Ingram has emerged from the pack on a struggling Pelicans squad.

With the NBA approaching the midway point of the season, the Blue Zone gives you a look at how some standout former Blue Devils are doing at the next level:

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

The 2016 No. 2 pick showed the nation on Christmas why he is one of the frontrunners for Most Improved Player, dropping an efficient 31 points on 61.1 percent shooting. Ingram also shot a scorching 7 of 9 from behind the arc, leading the struggling Pelicans to a huge road win against the No. 2 seed in the West—the Denver Nuggets. 

In Zion Williamson’s absence, Ingram has come alive, posting career highs in almost every major statistical category. Look for the fourth-year veteran to continue his offensive explosion as he continues to push for a bench spot in the NBA All-Star Game.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Like Ingram, the 2017 No. 3 pick is putting up career numbers across the board as the Celtics battle it out in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. Tatum struggled on Christmas in a win against the Raptors—grabbing nine boards and scoring just 11 points on low efficiency. However, Wednesday’s game was an anomaly from his recent hot streak, which included a 39-point performance against Charlotte. The third-year forward will look to bounce back against the Cavaliers Friday and solidify Boston’s playoff position with the All-Star break looming.

R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks

It has been a rough year so far for the Knicks. After missing out on their main free agent targets, they sit at 8-24, tied for the second worst record in the league. One silver lining, though, is increased playing time for the young players, including this year’s third overall pick. Barrett hasn’t had a great year, averaging 13.7 points per game on just 38.9 percent shooting. Still, he has shown flashes of the offensive force he was last year at Duke, scoring at least 17 points in three of his last five games, including a 27-point effort in a win against the Hawks. 

Those standout games have been interspersed with several disappointing games, however, including a particularly cold performance against the Heat. Nonetheless, Barrett will receive a lot of much-needed time to develop over the course of the season as New York looks to secure the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks

This year’s 10th overall pick finds himself on a team in a worse position than Barrett’s, with Atlanta boasting the worst record in the NBA at 6-25. Reddish has struggled thus far, averaging just 8.5 points per contest on 32.4 percent shooting from the field and 26.8 percent from deep. Despite beginning the year as a starter, he has also found himself coming off the bench in six of the Hawks’ last eight games. 

While his struggles in the box score are apparent, Reddish is making clear strides as he acclimates to the tougher pace of the NBA. He’s averaging 10.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 37.4 percent from the field in December, much higher numbers than his season averages.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Like his fellow lottery picks, the No. 1 selection finds himself on a struggling 9-23 Pelicans team. After getting arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, he was expected to miss between six to eight weeks of the start of the season. However, he still finds himself sidelined, a huge disappointment after his incredible preseason display. The 19-year-old has reportedly started to make his way back—recently joining practice activities—but has yet to even participate in scrimmages. 

According to some reports, the Pelicans are attempting to teach Zion to run and walk differently so as to minimize the strain on his knees and protect him from future setbacks. At the moment, on a New Orleans team that will not contend for playoff position, his long-anticipated debut seems to be in the distant future.

Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons

The third-year guard has been a revelation for a struggling Pistons team, setting career highs with 15.8 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. The 2017 No. 12 pick started the year on the bench, but thrust himself into the starting role just four games into the season. Despite boasting a talented roster featuring Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose, Detroit has struggled to a 12-20 record. 

While a low playoff seed is certainly achievable, the Pistons will need to make serious changes ahead of the All-Star break to stand any chance of qualification. With Kennard set to miss at least the next two weeks due to tendonitis, he may see some of his minutes slip to the several other guards on the roster upon his return. Still, the former Blue Devil has clearly emerged as one of the team’s most efficient scoring options and will look to ride his hot hand in the last guaranteed year on his rookie contract.


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