The emergence of Duke freshman Brandon Ingram has become one of the more exciting talking points of the 2016 NBA draft discussion.
A consensus top-five recruit (ESPN, Rivals, 247Sports), Ingram, who told the Charlotte Observer's Langston Wertz Jr. last March he would have likely gone to North Carolina had it not been for its academic scandal, has quickly replaced Jahlil Okafor's giant scoring presence in head coach Mike Krzyzewski's lineup. Ingram has backed up all the incoming hype with consistent production and efficient play.
He's also flashed an offensive repertoire and delivery that seem tailor-made for the NBA wing.
Ingram actually got off to a slow start before it suddenly began clicking. He's averaging 20.4 points since December 1, and after missing 19 of his first 25 attempts from behind the arc, he's brought his three-point mark all the way up to 41.9 percent on 5.3 attempts per game.
“After my first seven games, that wasn’t me at all,” Ingram told the News & Observer's Luke DeCock. “I had individual meetings with my coaches, and just listening to my teammates, I knew I had to do something about it.”
A 24.4 percent usage rate highlights the fact that the offense doesn't exactly run through Ingram. Jabari Parker, who played a similar combo forward role for Krzyzewski in 2013-14, was used in 32.7 percent of Duke's possessions that year. Ingram has been opportunistic, finding ways to score without being featured.
And though not the most fundamentally sound defender, his spectacular length has translated to defensive playmaking—1.4 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.
Ingram ultimately possesses guard skills with power forward measurements. You won't find many wings that can match his 6'9" size, 7'3" wingspan and smooth athleticism. He's a mismatch around the perimeter, where he can handle the ball and either blow by defenders or play right over the top of them.
However, he's played the stretch 4 position for the most part at Duke. College bigs aren't usually quick enough to contain him in space. Ingram has flashed strong slashing and lane-driving ability, along with the coordination and touch to finish runners and off-balance layups off one foot. He does a nice job of improvising in the lane and making awkward shots you just can't practice.
Ingram's jumper and shooting mechanics also look convincing. With a short, fluid stroke, he's making 2.2 threes per game, showing the confidence to jab-step and fire over his man in isolation, though most of his threes have been on catch-and-shoot spot-ups in rhythm.
In between, he's looked comfortable pulling up or separating into fallaways, making 47.9 percent of his two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com. He can really create space, thanks to the springs in his legs and the high release of his shot. By the time he's peaked, Ingram projects as a scorer capable of generating offense from all three levels—long range, mid-range and above the rim.
Defensively, his long arms and foot speed have also helped force turnovers and missed shots around the hoop. His length is naturally disruptive.
"He’s learning how to use his body,” Ingram's teammate, Grayson Allen, told DeCock. “He’s gifted with long arms and his bouncy frame and he can really get up and rebound. Defensively, you think you got him, and then he reaches up and blocks your shot or reaches out and gets a deflection.”
Listed at just 190 pounds, contact can throw off Ingram's balance somewhat easily. In the half court, he's only making 60.9 percent of his shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com. For what it's worth, Parker and Justise Winslow, the latter of whom played in Ingram's spot last year at Duke, each had slightly higher shooting percentages at the rim in the half court as freshmen.
Ingram is also converting just 63.2 percent of his free-throw attempts, which could make some question the legitimacy of his stellar three-point mark.
Otherwise, despite solid defensive stats, he hasn't been the sharpest fundamentally. We've seen some lapses in judgment and a few lazy closeouts, and he doesn't always play low enough to the ground when defending the perimeter.
NBA Player Comparisons
Ingram shares Tayshaun Prince's skinny frame and limbs, as well as the same style of offensive versatility. Like Prince, Ingram can stretch the floor as a shooter and potentially play some small-ball 4. He can also score in the mid-range or get to the rack off drives and slashes.
Neither player needs to dominate the ball. Prince has found ways to light up defenses even though he's never been the focal point of an offense. Ingram is similar in that he's shown he can get and make shots within the flow of his team's set.
While Ingram may already be the better shooter, the rest of his game, as well as his physical tools, are similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo's. Both players can handle the ball and get to the hoop, and they each use their length to finish around or over interior defenders.
In a few years, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ingram log minutes at shooting guard, something Antetokounmpo has done in Milwaukee.
A best-case scenario envisions Ingram emerging as a high-percentage go-to player. The Kevin Durant comparisons are a little much, but it's not crazy to think Ingram can become a 20-point-per-game NBA scorer.
Though it's tough to picture him leapfrogging LSU's Ben Simmons on many draft boards, Ingram will certainly have a good chance to follow him at No. 2. The Los Angeles Lakers, who currently have the second-worst record in the league, would ultimately seem like a strong fit for Ingram, given the team's need for another weapon between Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
In what could be a relatively underwhelming draft field, Ingram isn't likely to fall outside the top five—especially considering teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn), Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves could all use a wing.
In terms of his NBA outlook, it's possible Ingram's lack of strength causes him to struggle with converting inside the arc. That would put a ton of pressure on his perimeter game.
Worst-case scenario, Ingram fails to become “the guy” and falls back into a supporting role.
While scouts put varying degrees of importance on a player's performance in the NCAA tournament, with the eyes of the nation on March Madness, playing well or poorly in the most critical games of the season can certainly sway one's opinions. Some players, like the Connecticut Huskies' Shabazz Napier, have used the tournament as a springboard to rise up draft boards in recent years.
Duke has struggled at times, particularly in January, having lost three straight games to unranked opponents (Clemson, Notre Dame, Syracuse). But Ingram won't absorb any of the blame.
If anything, Duke's poor start to conference play potentially puts Ingram in “hero” position. Pulling this team out from the dumps and carrying it to wins in March would undoubtedly reflect favorably on Ingram's stock.
He's the type of offensive player capable of taking over for stretches of a game. Turning it on when the stakes are highest would help strengthen his case as a potential No. 1 scoring option.
Outside of Simmons, Ingram doesn't have any obvious competition for the title of second-best prospect in the projected 2016 field. Croatia's Dragan Bender will get looks from everyone, but considering he's playing just 11.2 minutes per game overseas and isn't guaranteed to come over right away, Ingram is bound to look like the more attractive option on draft night.
“Eventually, it may not all be while he's at Duke,” coach Krzyzewski told ESPN.com's C.L. Brown. “But he's going to be a special basketball player when it's all said and done.”
Expect the lottery's runner-up to take Ingram, regardless of what team is making the selection.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.