LSU's Ben Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram have sat atop NBA draft boards for months. They've separated themselves with flashes of potential and production to match exciting upside.
Chances are, whoever doesn't go No. 1 will end up No. 2 in what could be a stress-free decision for the Los Angeles Lakers. It's the Philadelphia 76ers who have pressure to make the right call.
On a positive note, neither prospect poses much risk, making this a likely win-win outcome for Philadelphia and L.A.
But with the first pick in the draft, the Sixers can't afford to get it wrong, given years of losing and uncertainty tied to Nerlens Noel (No. 6, 2013; acquired from New Orleans Pelicans via trade), Joel Embiid (No. 3, 2014) and Jahlil Okafor (No. 3, 2015).
Ingram's physical tools and athleticism prompt excitement and raise concerns.
On one hand, the only current NBA wings with longer arms include Kevin Durant, Marvin Williams and Al-Farouq Aminu, according to DraftExpress' database. Rudy Gay and Kawhi Leonard each match Ingram's 7'3" wingspan, but neither player is as tall.
Assuming opposing small forwards defend him, the 6'9" Ingram should have a height and length edge almost every time.
Unfortunately for the Duke product, opponents will likely have a strength advantage, as Ingram weighs 196 pounds. Since 2009, Tyler Honeycutt, Austin Daye, DeAndre Daniels, K.J. McDaniels, Otto Porter and Tony Snell are the only small forwards under 200 pounds who've been drafted, per DraftExpress' database. Even Durant was 215 pounds at his combine.
Unlike Andrew Wiggins, Ingram doesn't compensate with explosive burst.
How will he fare against physical wings like Leonard, DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Andre Iguodala, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Jae Crowder? Getting clean separation and finishing through contact are potential challenges for Ingram.
On the bright side, he is smooth and coordinated with enough bounce and length to posterize awaiting shot-blockers. And at 18 years old, Ingram has a frame with time and room to improve.
Meanwhile, Simmons' size, bulk, agility and quickness will make him an immediate problem for defenses. At 6'10", 240 pounds, he's strong, but also light on his feet. NBA bigs could have trouble with his power around the basket and foot speed away from it in space.
His body appears similar to Blake Griffin's out of Oklahoma:
|Simmons, Griffin draft-night measurements|
|Height||Weight (lbs)||Wingspan||Reach||Standing Vertical|
Simmons' hand-eye coordination is wide receiver-caliber, which allows him to convert difficult catches in traffic into easy buckets.
If there is a knock on Simmons' build, it's his 7'0 ¼" wingspan, assuming he'll spend most minutes at the 4. Will shorter arms make it tougher to finish against NBA rim protection? Will it affect his ability to contest on defense?
Skill Sets and Questions
Simmons will immediately emerge as one of the league's most dangerous open-floor weapons. His terrific handle and exceptional vision (along with athleticism and agility) should lead to layups, dunks and open threes in transition.
It's wild to think Simmons, a diesel power forward, finished with 60 assists on the year during the first 10 seconds of a shot clock, per Hoop-Math.com. That's the same amount as Providence's Kris Dunn, a speedy floor general who'll be the first point guard selected June 23.
Simmons takes defensive rebounds off the glass and initiates the break before defenses can set. His most valuable skill is the ability to create high-percentage shots, which he does in the half court as well. He can act as a facilitator once the game slows down. That might come off ball screens—where he operates over the top of defenses—or in the drive-and-kick game, given his ability to blow by and collapse the paint.
He projects as someone coaches can run sets through—both from the point or post—the way the Golden State Warriors do with Draymond Green.
But at this stage, Simmons' quarterback skills are ahead of his scoring. For individual offense, he leans on making tough floaters and other unorthodox field goals within 12 to 15 feet, which he gets by driving past his man and elevating off one foot.
Rarely does he score off two. Simmons hit one three-pointer all year and consistently passed up open jumpers for tough runners in traffic. It highlighted an obvious lack of shooting confidence.
Eventually, he'll have to make defenders pay for sagging back in the 16- to 25-foot area—because there is a lot more room to get off clean looks around the perimeter than there is among the trees inside.
The two big questions with Simmons: Will he improve from outside, and if he doesn't, how will it affect his offensive potential?
Otherwise, he will rebound and pass at high levels, and he'll consistently pick up above-the-rim freebies off fast breaks, line drives and putbacks. He's a triple-double threat whether his jumper develops or not.
Defensively, he'll have to show better effort. Simmons often let opposing players finish too easily around the basket. But he does have quick hands and a high basketball IQ. There is hope for him to become a serviceable defender with a knack for making plays on the ball as a thief or weak-side shot-blocker.
Simmons' most glaring weakness is Ingram's most coveted skill: shooting. With an effortless flick-of-the-wrist release, Ingram hit 2.2 three-pointers per game at a 41.0 percent clip.
It's worth noting 76 of his 80 triples came via an assist, per Hoop-Math.com. This highlights that he does most of his long-range shooting by spotting up. The positive takeaway from a stat like that: Ingram is comfortable off the ball, which should help him transition to the pros.
He's more likely to create two-point shots for himself, with a tight handle that can quickly change speed or direction off the dribble. He gets to the basket off ball screens and drives past closing defenders. He also shows good footwork and body control in the lane, which led to difficult, off-balance finishes. We've seen flashes of mid-range scoring with pull-ups and fall-away jumpers. He uses jab steps and fakes to create space in isolation.
Impressive ball-handling and control give Ingram playmaking potential as well. He's shown he can shake free, penetrate the defense and find the open man.
But how often will Ingram win the one-on-one battle, considering many defenders will have an additional 20-plus pounds of muscle? Is he explosive enough to consistently beat the first line of defense around the arc? His 5.5 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes were low.
At the other end, he can disrupt with length and quickness, and there's defensive potential for coaches to unlock. But his awareness isn't great, and he's likely to struggle with holding his ground early on.
Pro Player Comparisons
When Simmons looks into the NBA comparison mirror, he likely sees multiple players. Offensively, he's similar to Green and Lamar Odom—point forwards at their best distributing, attacking and rebounding.
To reach either's value, Simmons must at least become capable of threatening the defense when left open from outside. He's not the defender Green is or the shooter Odom became. But they share similar versatility that only comes around every so often.
We've seen more players like Ingram. He reminds me of Tayshaun Prince, another skinny wing who compensated for limited strength with skill. During his prime, he was a forward who could catch and shoot with range, score in between and attack the hoop. But he was always more of a complementary piece than a featured one.
Depending on how Ingram's body and game develop, Paul George makes sense as a best-case scenario. Like George, Ingram can work on and off the ball, though he'd have to make significant strides to come anywhere close to where PG13 is defensively.
The Sixers' Decision
The only need Philadelphia has is talent. What shape it comes in does not matter.
As one scout put it, "Team needs are only used as a tiebreaker." I don't see a tie in this debate. Simmons' floor and ceiling are both higher than Ingram's.
Defenses won't have an answer for Simmons if he adds a jumper. And there isn't anything frightening about his shooting mechanics.
Green made only two three-pointers total after two seasons at Michigan State. He hit 38.8 percent of his threes in 2015-16 and just sunk six during Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Since Simmons is only 19 years old, bet on his chances of eventually improving as a shooter.
Even if he doesn't, he still offers unique versatility through playmaking, rebounding and transition offense. His physical tools, handle, vision and ability to pressure on the rim and glass seem guaranteed to translate.
Ingram's margin for error is smaller. He'd have to develop into a 20- to 25-point scorer to justify taking him No. 1, considering he doesn't project as a big assist man, rebounder or lockdown defender. He will make a fine pro, but he'll be more of a supporting scorer like Prince, something Ingram was at Duke alongside Grayson Allen, than a go-to superstar like George.
Can he become one of the game's premier scorers? I'd rather let the Lakers find out and instead gamble on Simmons' safer, more rewarding versatility.