With the first pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers have the opportunity to select a player that they hope will one day lead them from the bottom of the NBA standings and into the promised land of playoff contention. Of the players in this year’s draft, only a few appear to have that potential. Among them are Ben Simmons, the athletic forward from LSU with exceptional passing vision, and Brandon Ingram, the 18-year-old freshman sensation and scoring extraordinaire out of Duke. The question is, should the 76ers trust Brandon Ingram over Ben Simmons to be the player to fix their fortunes?
Why the 76ers should draft Brandon Ingram
As referenced earlier, the most promising part of Brandon Ingram’s game is his scoring ability. Through 36 games at Duke, he averaged 17.3 PPG while shooting 44.2% from the field and 41% from three-point land. Ingram possesses a deadly shooting stroke, both in catch-and-shoot situations and off the dribble, and standing at 6’9” with a wingspan of 7’3”, he can get his shot up over most defenders. These rare physical traits, in combination with his shooting touch and elite scoring, often draw comparisons to the Slim Reaper himself, Kevin Durant. Much like Durant in his days at Texas, Ingram has already demonstrated a very polished isolation game, as he can use an array of shot fakes and jab steps to create space either for an open jumper. Also, defenders must respect Ingram’s shot, which he has used to his advantage by attacking defenders on the closeout and getting to the cup. While he has some difficulty finishing in traffic around the rim due to his slender physique, with added strength he should be able to score on those looks with ease, given his 9’1.5” standing reach. Ingram also has great instincts when moving without the ball on offense, often cutting to open space while other players drive to the hoop where he can easily knock down open looks off of kick-outs. On the defensive end, Ingram has displayed an ability to defend forwards and guards on ball, using his incredible length to sag and contest, and his physical attributes give him the potential to become an elite perimeter defender in a few years.
On paper, Brandon Ingram appears to be the better fit for the 76ers roster as it stands now. By drafting Ingram, the 76ers first would immediately add a desperately needed perimeter scoring threat. Currently, the 76ers, built around frontcourt players like Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid, lack a reliable perimeter shooter, so it should come as no surprise that their offense was anemic as a result poor spacing. Last season, the 76ers ranked an abysmal 29th in both scoring and field goal percentage, and it’s easy to see why. Of all of the players currently on their roster who attempted at least four threes a game, the most accurate was Hollis Thompson, who shot a modest 38% on his five attempts per game, and the team overall ranked 24th in three-point percentage. Based on his college numbers, Ingram, who already possesses a very NBA-style offensive game, would also be the best three-point shooter on the 76ers, as he shot 41% on his almost five and a half attempts per game. With Ingram serving as a more reliable threat from distance, Okafor and Noel, both of whom have yet to develop consistent mid-range games, would have more room to go to work in the paint, opening up more opportunities for scoring and offensive rebounding around the rim. In addition, the 76ers already have a ball-dominant point guard in Ish Smith, so adding a perimeter player who moves well without the ball like Ingram may be more useful than adding another ball-dominant player like Simmons. On defense, Ingram would also make an instant contribution to the team. The 76ers were downright atrocious on defense last year, ranking 29th in opponents points per game. In terms of defensive win shares (estimated wins contributed by a players defense), Ingram would be the fourth best defender on the 76ers, who also have dire need for someone who can defend on the perimeter. Finally, Ingram would allow the 76ers to play a style of basketball more suited to the modern NBA, where the importance of a fast tempo and spacing have made small stretch 4s and 5s more commonplace. With some added weight and strength, Ingram could easily play the role of a small ball stretch 4, which would allow the 76ers to at least keep up with the faster pace of many elite NBA teams.
Why the 76ers should pass on Ingram
In spite of being extremely polished on the offensive end (aside from his 68% shooting from the free throw line) and showing great potential in other areas, there are still a few holes in Ingram’s game. Although has incredible length and reach for his position, in college he was often buried underneath the basket by larger forwards when attempting to grab rebounds. While Ingram has claimed in several interviews that he has since put on about five pounds of weight after the end of Duke’s season, at just 200 pounds he could still be tossed around a bit by bigger NBA players. For the 76ers, who ranked dead last in the league in total rebounds last season, Ben Simmons, who averaged 11.8 total rebounds per game to Ingram’s 6.8, may be better suited in helping them improve in the rebounding category. And, while Ingram’s on ball defense is solid, he can often appear sleepy while guarding his man off ball, which led to several James Harden-esque moments where he stood almost in place as his man cut to the basket or got open on the perimeter for easy scores. Finally, with barely a week left before the draft, trade rumors still surround Philadelphia’s two prized big men: Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. While nobody is certain which of the two the 76ers are looking to trade, the consensus is that Philly could ship off either Okafor or Noel in exchange for another top ten pick in this year’s draft on June 23. If such a trade were to be accepted, taking Simmons would then appear to be the far better choice, as he would play in a less crowded frontcourt and serve as an incredibly gifted point-forward while Philly could still fulfill its need for a shooter by drafting someone the likes of Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray later in the top ten. Much like Ingram, Simmons could also play the small ball 4, but with his superior athleticism and vision he would be able to collapse opposing defenses and create open looks for shooters, and if the 76ers were able to acquire a knockdown shooter alongside Simmons, whether through the draft, free agency, or a trade, passing on the LSU forward for Ingram would appear borderline inexcusable.
All stats courtesy of College Basketball at Sports Reference.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted
Image courtesy of Basketball Society Online