The heavily favored Americans haven't even played their second game at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. As Monday's Group C matchup against Greece in Manila dawns, though, New Orleans Pelicans star Brandon Ingram has already begun openly questioning his role with Team USA.
“This is totally different than what I am used to,” he told Joe Vardon of The Athletic on Sunday. “The team is winning right now, so I can’t be selfish thinking about myself. But it’s a little frustrating right now for me, and I’m just trying to figure out ways I can be effective.”
Ingram has started every game at power forward for the Americans since they began preparation for the World Cup a few weeks ago. But he's struggled to find his footing offensively while shouldering much lighter scoring and playmaking duties than he does with the Pelicans, a reality laid bare by the 2020 All-Star's nondescript performance in his team's opening-game win over New Zealand on Saturday.
Ingram finished with two points, three rebounds, two assists and two turnovers on 1-of-4 shooting, playing just 14 minutes against the Tall Blacks after Team USA's starters fell down an early double-digit hole. That low-level impact mirrored Ingram's play during USA Basketball's exhibition slate, when perceived concerns over his ability to thrive in a supporting role were confirmed each time he took the floor.
Don't mistake Ingram's palpable frustration for friction with his teammates or coaches, though. As Team USA seeks World Cup gold, the 25-year-old knows where the onus to make the most of his time with the red, white and blue ultimately falls.
“I know who I am. In ways, I can get stuck and think my way is the best way,” Ingram said. “This is a learning experience… I get to see everybody work, get to see everybody’s strengths and everybody’s weaknesses, so I can take it back to my team, be smart about it.”
Questions about Ingram's offensive scalability and defensive effectiveness at the game's highest levels will persist until he answers them in New Orleans. If the Pelicans ever reach their title-contender ceiling, they'll surely have done it with Ingram playing clear second fiddle to a healthy Zion Williamson, rounding out his game with fewer shots and lesser usage to make consistently winning plays on both sides of the ball.
There's still plenty of time for him to adjust to a similar role with Team USA. We'll start to find out how Ingram responds to his mounting disappointment on Monday morning against the Greeks.