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 draft picks the Los Angeles Lakers sent to the Big Easy in exchange for Anthony Davis last summer.
“But I think this year was just the year I had the most fun, the most fun playing basketball that way that I wanted to play basketball,” Ingram said during a conference call after winning the award. “I had an opportunity to be in the gym every day with my teammates, who love to do the same things that I love to do. I see some of the guys come back to the gym all the time. Always asking and asking for different advice on the basketball floor so they can get better in game, but not just their game, but for our team. That was just the most enjoyable moment for me. I don’t think it was a stat or anything made me the happiest or motivated me the most. I think the type of player I want to be, I want to be well rounded all across the board. I think what impressed me the most was how much fun I had with my teammates and seeing the attitudes they had every single day.”
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.
“They put me first before anything, whether they had it or not,” Ingram said of his parents. “I saw my dad getting two hours of sleep every day, waking up, going to the plant, coming back home, taking a shower and going to the gym and maybe refereeing some nights. It was all to make sure his family was straight.
“My mom has worked at her job for about 32 [to] 35 years. Seeing her put that dedication in and sticking to what she was doing definitely was just instilled in me.”
Ingram earned a narrow victory over Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, collecting 326 points (and 42 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.
Information from ESPN’s Andrew Lopez was used in this report.