ecoming the no. 1 overall pick can be a matter of ability, production and projectability. It can also be a matter of timing. The top Duke-produced draft prospect last season, Jahlil Okafor, was inarguably talented and productive in college, but his elite skill was back-to-the-basket post offense, which would've made him a more valuable draft commodity in 1995's NBA rather than 2015's, when he remained on the board until the third pick. The Blue Devils' top prospect in 2016, Brandon Ingram, had a less dominant one-and-done freshman season than Okafor did, but Ingram, for NBA teams, may be the right pick at the right time. The league is in its length-and-shooting era, and Ingram could be the best, pre-packaged length-and-shooting prospect to come along in nearly a decade. He's 6'9" with arms that spool out like filament wire, stretching to a 7'3" wingspan and a 9'1.5" standing reach, and he shot 41.0% on three-pointers as an 18-year-old at Duke.
The league is in its length-and-shooting era, and Ingram could be the best, pre-packaged length-and-shooting prospect to come along in nearly a decade.
"He's what teams are looking for right now, from a standpoint of how the game is becoming more position-less and focused on versatile skill sets," one NBA front-office member says of Ingram, on condition of anonymity. "You can see it in the playoffs right now: Teams are cross-matching defensively, and the record for threes in a playoff game gets broken [by the Cavaliers]. ... Ingram walks in the door with that combination of wingspan, shooting and ballhandling, so until the [NBA] trend shifts to something else, there's not going to be an issue with him fitting in."
Ingram will be loosely defined as a small forward in the NBA, but he played multiple positions for Duke. He opened the season starting at the three, and he became the four-man in the Blue Devils' small-ball lineups after Amile Jefferson was sidelined with an injury in early December. There were possessions where Ingram initiated offense as a de facto point guard. He was not an elite defender, but he could switch on to all five positions, and his length made him a menace at the top of Duke's occasional 1-3-1 zone. It's his rare combination of length and accurate long-range shooting, however, that makes him such a commodity. Since 2001-02, just four college players with wingspans measured at 7'2" or greater have attempted at least 5.0 threes per 40 minutes and made at least 40%. Two of those players went undrafted, but one of those, Robert Covington, started this season for the Sixers. The third player is Kevin Durant, who needs no introduction. The fourth is Brandon Ingram:
Length + Shooting In College Basketball
Division I players from 2002-present with 7'2" or greater wingspans and at least 5.0 three-point attempts per 40 minutes, pace-adjusted (min. 20 minutes played per game)
Of NBA players whose wingspans measured 7'2" or greater at their pre-draft combine, there were nine who attempted at least 5.0 threes per 40 minutes this season. Six of them could be defined as switchable wings, and they are an immensely valuable subset. Two are likely top-five finishers in the MVP race, and five started games during the playoffs: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Marvin Williams (Hornets), Durant (Thunder), Trevor Ariza (Rockets) and Al-Farouq Aminu (Blazers).
Length + Shooting In The NBA
NBA players whose draft-time wingspans measured 7'2" or greater, and attempted at least 5.0 threes per 40 minutes, pace-adjusted, in 2015-16 (min. 20 minutes played per game)
Ingram is no lock to join the high end of that group. It would be unwise to expect him to ever approach the scoring output of Durant or the defensive impact of Leonard. But there is comfort, as another NBA front-office member puts it, in the fact "that you can superimpose Brandon Ingram on a lot of NBA offenses." And this is what separates Ingram from his primary (and perhaps only) competition for the No. 1 overall pick.
It would be unwise to expect Ingram to ever approach the scoring output of Durant or the defensive impact of Leonard. But there is comfort in the fact "that you can superimpose Ingram on a lot of NBA offenses."
LSU's Ben Simmons has the potential to be a transcendent talent. As a 6'10", self-professedly ambidextrous hybrid forward, he could be one of the largest playmakers ever in the NBA. His freshman-year stats—both of the traditional and advanced variety—were better than Ingram's. But Simmons has no semblance of a long-range shot, and it will require a certain kind of non-traditional offense to showcase him.
Greg Nelson for Sports Illustrated
"Simmons needs the ball in his hands to be at his most effective," says that same front-office member. "You almost need an absence of a pure playmaker at the one spot, which means having non-ball-dominant scorers at the 1 and 2 to make it work."
And if you can't assemble that personnel, or if Simmons turns out to be a less efficient playmaker than a traditional point guard, and needs to be transitioned to another role? "Then," as one NBA scout puts it, "he's a hard guy to have on your team. Whereas if Ingram doesn't come close to his ceiling, he's still going to be useful."
That's the argument for No. 1, in a nutshell. Ingram: more obvious fit than Simmons, higher floor than Simmons. Their shot charts, examined head-to-head: one in perfect sync with the league he's entering, the other requiring expansion and imagination to make fit. Which will the lottery-winning team prefer?
Brandon Ingram (Duke) 2015–16 Shot Chart
(Data from ShotAnalytics.com)
Ben Simmons (LSU) 2015–16 Shot Chart
(Data from ShotAnalytics.com)