Halfway through the NCAA and NBA seasons, two prospects have emerged as leaders for the number one spot in the NBA draft. Freshman forwards Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram have separated themselves from the pack of prospects who could enter the 2016 draft. Ranked as the first and third best freshmen coming out of high school, they have lived up to their reputations and expectations that made them such sought after in high school. They have been projected to go one and two in the draft in multiple mock drafts. But the question still remains, who is the better NBA prospect?
The first thing to realize is that both of these prospects have their own game. Simmons and Ingram each have their particular set of skills that make them so dangerous and tough to handle for opposing teams. They also have their separate strengths and weaknesses, that both help and hinder their respective NBA outlooks.
Ben Simmons came into this season with an inordinate amount of hype. He’s an international superstar, being born in Australia, and then coming to the states and playing at arguably the best prep school in America at Montverde Academy, situated in Florida. The consensus number one recruit committed to LSU and immediately had the highest expectations of any LSU commit since Shaquille O’Neal.
While LSU hasn’t lived up to the expectations, Simmons has. In 21 games, Simmons is averaging 19.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He’s gone over 20 points 10 times, including a 43 point performance against North Florida. In his most recent matchup, Simmons went against Buddy Hield and the number one ranked Oklahoma Sooners in a game that featured two of the leading candidates for the Wooden Award. Simmons was an economical 6/7, but left fans and scouts wanting him to be more assertive, especially down the stretch as his Tigers lost by two.
As for his NBA outlook, Simmons has been the favorite for much of the season. His offensive game has everything a scout loves, except the fact that he can’t shoot. He’s attempted just three three-pointers on the year, making one of them. Whether he can’t shoot or just doesn’t remains to be seen, but the fact that he doesn’t even try to is worrisome. In today’s NBA, teams love to spread the court with shooters, but Simmons doesn’t fit the recent trend. The 6’10” point forward is so good at attacking the basket that he doesn’t need to shoot in college, but in the NBA, with much better athletes, he’ll have to at least keep defenses honest with his shooting. Using his ability to get to the basket, Simmons gets the free throw line with ease, but only knocks down 71% of his free throws, a sign that he may be further away from developing an outside game.
Simmons is best in the open court, where his passing abilities and speed lead to easy buckets for himself and his teammates. When he is in transition, he can finish with either hand effortlessly, something that some NBA players can’t even do. He can grab a rebound on the defensive end and go coast to coast with ease, as seen in the gif below.
He’s very instinctual on the offensive end and is great at finding the open man. His feel for the game is unteachable, as is his athleticism and length that make him great on both ends of the court. He has quick hands that has led him to average out .9 blocks per game and 1.8 steals per game.
Outside of his shooting, another area where Simmons needs work though is in his discipline. Simmons sometimes gets himself in foul trouble or forces the issue too much on offense, leading to turnovers. He’s fouled out three times already and his had at least four personal fouls in four other contests. Moving on to his turnover problems, Simmons averages three turnovers per game. He’s had games of seven turnovers, against Charleston, and eight turnovers against Florida, a game in which he also fouled out. Being a primary ball handler means more turnovers, but sometimes he looks to pass too often, which leads back to the point of scouts really wanting him to be more assertive on the offensive end.
All in all, Simmons has a rare skill set seen in today’s NBA. He has the size and rebounding ability of a forward but runs and passes like a point guard. Whichever teams lands him is going to get an immediate impact player, but is he better than Brandon Ingram?
Ingram is another in the long line of one and done’s at Duke. Last year, it was the trio of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow who left. The main prize in the number one recruiting class of 2015 has shined this year for Duke, who is currently unranked for the first time since 2006-2007. The freshman ranks second only to Grayson Allen in points per game for the Blue Devils. On the year, Ingram is averaging 17.4 points per game, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He was a pure scorer out of high school and has shown ability to hit the three ball, where he is connecting at a 41% rate. His free throw numbers are puzzling as he only connects at a 64% rate despite his accuracy from distance.
Ingram is playing his best ball recently amidst this horrendous stretch from Duke, and he hasn’t been held below 10 points since November. He’s gone over the 20 point mark eight times for the Blue Devils and might be their best all around scorer.
As previously mentioned, Ingram’s best strength is his scoring ability. He’s a matchup nightmare on the wing, as he uses his 6’9″ height and 7’3″ wingspan to shoot over the top of defenses. He’s great shooting off the dribble and spotting up, but can sometimes get a bit too shot happy and take some ill-advised shots, as seen in his 6/16 showing against Utah.
For as good as Ingram is from the outside, finishing at the rim is a different story. Ingram gets bullied down low he’s a disgustingly skinny 196 pounds. He’s even put on weight since high school and still hovers around 200 pounds. With that lack of size it makes Ingram more one dimensional, which forces him into tough shots.
Despite that lack of strength, Ingram is a solid rebounder, where he puts that length to work. He has four double-doubles on the year but has been consistent on the glass for much of the season. Duke really needs him to crash the boards due to injuries up front to Amile Jefferson and poor efforts from Chase Jeter and Sean Obi, as you can read here.
When using his length, Ingram projects as a solid defender on the perimeter at the next level. He has quick hands and feet, which help aid him in blocks and steals. Ingram’s best defensive games have come against Virginia Tech, where he had six blocks to his credit and a four block, three steal performance against Wake Forest, coming in back to back games. On the year, Ingram rejects 1.5 shots a game and averages 1.3 steals per game. His low post defense will need some work, but that will come with strength.
Unlike Simmons, Ingram is pretty disciplined. He doesn’t get into too much foul trouble, but part of that can be attributed to coach Mike Krzyzewski not really forcing his stars to play defense. He only fouls 2.2 times a night and turns the ball over just 1.8 times per game. Of course he isn’t the primary ball handler for Duke like Simmons is for LSU, but he still shows good poise when under pressure.
The final spot where he could improve is in his play making ability. He has all the moves to get his own shots off, but doesn’t look to find the open man as much as he should. As mentioned, he averages less than two assists per game, and with offensive threats like Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, those numbers could be a bit higher.
Ingram has shown flashes of being a solid two way wing in the NBA. With his length, quickness and athleticism, he has the potential to be one of the best wings in the game during his prime years.
Whoever has the number one selection in the 2016 NBA draft (likely the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics, via the Brooklyn Nets) will have quite the decision to make come draft night.
If Philadelphia gets the number one spot, they have a need for both pure talent, playmaking and outside shooting. Ingram and Simmons each check off two of those boxes, but with Philadelphia really needing a fusion of talent, they’ll go Simmons if they get the chance, no matter how poorly the floor will be spaced.
Los Angeles already has their playmaking duo of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson set for the future, so they don’t really need Simmons. He would certainly be the flashy pick, but Ingram offers just as much upside, while also filling a massive need on the wing.
For Boston, the pick could go either way. The Celtics are a deep team and would likely look at international stud Dragan Bender, as they can take time to develop him. But in the case of Simmons vs Ingram, I think they would prefer Ingram. The Celtics don’t shoot the rock particularly well, and one could argue that shooting is his greatest asset at this point.
While it is clear to see that both of these players have seem serious NBA potential, it’s unclear where they will fall on draft day. With still half a season left plus March Madness, where their skills can be seen in front of a national audience, their stocks could either suffer or rise in the coming months. Down the stretch run, all eyes will be on Simmons and Ingram to see if one of them will become the clear cut number one option.
Cover Photo via CBS Sports
Gifs via Bloggersodear.com
Stats via ESPN