In the last couple of drafts, there have been two clear-cut top prospects that have stirred up debate. Last year, it was Karl-Anthony Towns v. Jahlil Okafor; the previous year it was Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
This year’s upcoming draft resonates this trend with the likes of Ben Simmons of LSU and Brandon Ingram of Duke.
Simmons is the favorite and presumption pick for the 76ers who choose first. But is he really the best pro prospect?
It appears that in the modern, evolving NBA, where perimeter shooting is emphasized and relied on more and more, and careless character faults of rookies are scrutinized more and more, then Ben Simmons might not be this year’s best potential player. That title actually belongs to Brandon Ingram.
That’s not to say Ben Simmons isn’t a great prospect. In fact, Simmons is one of the better prospective players the league has seen in recent years. He has obvious physical gifts with a 6’10”, 240-pound frame, and exemplary basketball skills with exceptional body control, court vision, defensive instinct, rebounding, and passing abilities. His single season at LSU reflects that, an astonishingly amazing 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2 steals a game, becoming the first NCAA player to average 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists since Ron Harper did so 30 years ago as a senior.
Simmons was a freshman. In the SEC, Simmons ranked first in PER, first in Box +/-, and third in Win Shares. Those are impressive numbers, especially for someone as inexperienced as Simmons. He’s demonstrated that he shouldn’t be drafted based off pure potential, but that he also has proven production.
There’s a definite reason as to why Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report said, “The Philadelphia 76ers are leaning heavily toward taking Simmons on June 23, according to league sources, with the No. 1 overall pick”.
Essentially, Ben Simmons is a point guard in a forward’s body, and that’s enticing to any NBA team.
However, Simmons does have flaws, and these flaws could prove to be fatal in the NBA. Simply put, Simmons is an atrocious perimeter shooter. While he is phenomenal at igniting the fast break, that flame can easily be put out when he has to shoot beyond the arc.
During the season, Simmons only attempted three 3-pointers, making one, which is already worrisome. However, taking data from the last four years of all the games he’s played at LSU, FIBA competitions, and Nike athletic events and summits, in a total of 74 games, Simmons was 12-50 on 3-point attempts, roughly making 24% of his attempts. The fact that Simmons is that bad at an aspect of the modern game that is so important, the 3-pointer, is scary, and could inhibit his professional success.
Collegiate defenses learned to adjust to Simmons’ long-range shooting weakness throughout the season by backing off and daring him to shoot; Simmons was unsuccessful and passive when defenses did this. What do you think will happen when NBA defenses, with the best defensive caliber and strategy, catch on to Simmons’ Achilles heel? He’ll suffer mightily. Unless he improves his perimeter shooting, Simmons won’t wreak havoc like he did at LSU. He might seem like a franchise centerpiece, but the fact remains that one must surround Simmons with shooters to alleviate his fault. A team must construct around Simmons to make him effective.
In addition, Simmons has developed some character issues that, while not enough to scare away an NBA team from drafting him, are still troubling. Last season, we saw the #2 and #3 picks of the previous draft experience off the court incidents that have affected their futures.
Jahlil Okafor early in the season distressed Philadelphia executives by being involved in bar fights, gun reports, and speeding tickets. Okafor was handed a two game suspension by the 76ers for disciplinary reasons. D’Angelo Russell lost all basic support and trust in the locker room after a Snapchat scandal, something undesirable for the appointed “future of the Lakers”. These promising stars were scrutinized for their lack of maturity and focus, and now find themselves in somewhat daunting situations with their respective teams.
Okafor is on the trading block, and while this may have more to do with the 76ers logjam of frontcourt players than his style of play, he instilled no confidence in his team and made a possible trade a bit easier for the 76ers to commit to. Russell doesn’t appear to have a 100% secure future with the Lakers either. Unfortunately, teams worry Ben Simmons might head down the same path.
Halfway through the NCAA season, Ben Simmons was removed from contention for the Wooden Award because he could not maintain a 2.0 GPA. It wasn’t that he was struggling with the course material – he was ditching class. Indeed, there are murmurs around the league about Simmons maturity.
Rex Chapman, a former NBA player and executive stated on the Dan Patrick show, “I think if you ask people around LSU, around the league; he’s got some immaturity issues, and I think that’s what frightens teams a bit…I think there are questions about his ability to be a really good teammate”.
Ben Simmons may be a superb basketball talent, but character faults, especially because of recent rookie mishaps, are deterring.
Simmons’ runner-up in the draft is Brandon Ingram. Ingram, like Simmons, posted gaudy numbers this past year, averaging 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.4 blocks at Duke. Like Simmons, he produced at the college level. However, Ingram’s most attractive statistics are those that revolve around the 3-pointer.
This past season, Ingram averaged 5.4 3-point attempts a game, making 2.2 of them; he shot 41% from beyond the 3-point line, an alluring number for a 6’9” forward.
What Simmons lacks, Ingram excels in. When Ingram heads into the league already developed and ready to conquer the now league-defining element of the 3-pointer, he’ll have a step over Simmons. Ingram might not be draining long-distance rainbows like Steph Curry, but because he stands as an actual threat from 20+ ft. away, he already shows promise and potential in ways Simmons can’t.
It’s not just the 3-pointer that makes Brandon Ingram a great prospect though. Ingram, similarly to Simmons, displayed good ball handling for his size, even being the primary ball handler at times throughout Duke’s regular season and the NCAA tournament.
In key games down the stretch of Duke’s season, Ingram put up clutch performances – in late season wins vs. Louisville, Virginia, and North Carolina he put up 18, 25, and 20 points respectively and in the NCAA tournament, Ingram averaged 23 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Ingram’s wingspan of 7’3”, which is 3” longer than Simmons, is monstrous for his size, and helps tremendously on perimeter and rim defense, as well as offensive separation.
While Ingram is currently quite lanky, weighing in at only 196 pounds, his broad and wide shoulders give him the physique so that he is easily capable of adding muscle mass.
For many scouts, Ingram represents the closest prospective resemblance to Kevin Durant than ever seen before. A comparison to KD doesn’t come lightly, but Ingram has all the showings to become the next perennial basketball superstar.
As far as Ingram’s character traits, there’s nothing that stands as a red flag. In Ingram’s Player’s Tribune, entitled “Farewell Duke”, Ingram showed no disdain for his university, teammates, or coaches. He spoke of his admiration and appreciation for them. Ingram played in a much different basketball and college environment from Simmons, and it shows. While younger than Simmons by 14 months, another important aspect to consider in basketball development, he’s shown more maturation. Off the court concerns aren’t a problem for Brandon Ingram, furthering his claim as the best prospective NBA player.
On Wednesday, there will be no undisputed #1 pick. There’s no LeBron James this draft. There’s no Kyrie Irving, there’s no John Wall, and there’s no Anthony Davis. There’s no Anthony Bennett (haha – jokes). There is, however, Ben Simmons. And there is Brandon Ingram. Each has superstar qualities, and each has superhuman physiques. Neither is a slam dunk, but only one is a shooter. That shooter, that future NBA player, is Brandon Ingram, and with how the game is changing and evolving, I’ll take him over Ben Simmons any day.
photo via llananba