Toward the conclusion of Brandon Ingram’s initial media scrum in Los Angeles, the lanky, prodigiously gifted prospect—who in all likelihood will be selected by the Lakers with the second pick during Thursday’s draft—was asked about Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
The physical resemblance invites comparison. Up close, Ingram’s 7’3” wingspan appears like a dozen whiffle ball bats are duct-taped end-to-end across his chest. Nearly 10 years ago, Durant looked the same way.
“I hear it a lot,” Ingram said. “Of course, he is way, way ahead of me right now. But that’s where I want to be.”
For obvious reasons, this is all thrilling for the Lakers. Acquiring a prospect who may come close to replicating Durant’s production over the next decade, starting on a cost-controlled rookie-scale contract, is a coup. Theoretically, it is the next best thing to actually signing Durant in free agency.
Both players are built for the modern game, with bodies and jump shots that enable the type of versatility treasured more and more throughout the NBA every year.
Durant was a candescent superhero during his only year at Texas. Ingram’s freshman year at Duke was impressive, but not on the same level. Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, shot 47.3 percent from the floor and made 40.4 percent of his threes.
In similar minutes, Ingram averaged 17.3 points and 6.8 boards, shooting 44.2 percent from the floor while sinking 41 percent from the outside. Raw numbers, a small sample size and tricky variables make a direct comparison silly, and the deeper you dive into their statistical blueprint, the less it makes sense to put their names in the same sentence.
But that doesn't mean Ingram can't be the most fascinating player in this year's draft class. A few moments after Ingram is asked about Durant, he mentions George Gervin, and all these wondrous possibilities start dancing through your head. Even more alluring than his present-day physical traits is how fast he got here.
The Vertical’s Mike Schmitz explained how far Ingram has come over the past couple years:
In August 2014, Brandon Ingram told DraftExpress at the Under Armour Elite 24 in New York that he models his game after Austin Daye, Tayshaun Prince and, "Kevin Durant, of course."
The last comparison seemed like a pipe dream. At the time, Ingram was two inches shorter than Durant and was hardly considered an elite-level recruit. A career path somewhere in between Daye and Prince appeared to be most realistic.
At 18 years old, Ingram’s body and game are clearly unfinished products. In four years at North Carolina’s Kinston High School, he won four state championships. He also grew from 6’2” his freshman season to 6’6” his junior year. Today, as one of the youngest players in his draft class, he stands 6’9”.
His body’s rapid growth mirrors what’s happened to his all-around skills, and the speed of his improvement builds real optimism for how great he can be.
“To go after four state championships in high school is pretty remarkable,” Kinston High School men’s basketball head coach Perry Tyndall said. “And to do it at a public high school where you’re playing with the kids you’ve grown up with and not players that have come in from all over the place, it says a lot about him and his leadership and his ability to understand his teammates, to get them involved.”
Beyond the clear benefit of adding a prospect who’s built to play in several All-Star Games before he retires, Ingram’s skill set and physical makeup should fit well beside Los Angeles’ young core.
As currently constructed, the Lakers have a gaping hole on the wing. They don't have any reliable three-point shooting in their frontcourt and should be desperate for someone who can handcuff (or at least bother) the league’s top perimeter scorers on the other end.
In one package, Ingram may be the answer. Additionally, his positionless features and unselfish nature should be perfect in Luke Walton’s versatility-based system.
“I think the small forward position for him will be good,” Tyndall said. “As he advances and he adds weight, I think that’s when he gets stronger. You’ll see him move maybe into the 4. But also a guy that can take it and run the 1, because, really, one thing you didn’t see a whole lot this year was he’s very good in transition. Very, very good in transition. To secure a rebound and take it or catch an outlet and push on the break—he’s very good with finishing and decision-making, and his passing is not discussed a lot.”
If Ingram is their starting small forward next season, the Lakers will have four players (D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Ingram) who can handle the ball in the open floor, attack in transition and create mismatches all over the court.
Russell, Clarkson (assuming the Lakers match an offer to the restricted free agent) and Ingram can all shoot threes, but even more important than that is the flexibility Walton will have at his disposal. The Lakers have no reason not to rank top-five in three-point attempts and pace if they pick Ingram.
“The thing about Brandon is he probably thrives more in the open [floor] where he’s allowed to create,” Tyndall said. “Give him space and isolate him.”
If Lou Williams isn’t traded over the summer, he will wreak havoc running 1-4 pick-and-rolls with Ingram as a screener. Russell will have more room to operate in the post (an area that could become his bread and butter for a long time) while Larry Nance Jr.'s vertical spacing, combined with Ingram's deadly range, should force help defenders to make difficult decisions over and over again.
The draft still isn't for a few days, but this future already feels like reality, with ESPN's Marc Stein reporting that the Philadelphia 76ers are leaning toward Ben Simmons with the first overall pick:
The Sixers, sources said, came away impressed by the 20 pounds of muscle Simmons is said to have added to his physique since the end of the college season and viewed the meeting as the start of "building a relationship" with the player they are strongly expected to select ahead of Duke's Brandon Ingram with the first pick next week.
To make a quick tie-in with Walton’s Golden State Warriors, imagine how devastating Shaun Livingston would be if he were even taller and could shoot threes. That’s the type of mismatch Ingram has the potential to create if he’s ever used in spot minutes as a backup point guard.
The second overall pick in any draft is a precious commodity, and the Lakers are fortunate to land it the same year someone as limitless as Ingram may be available. The Durant comparisons inflate expectations just a bit, but considering where he was two years ago, it’s hard not to let your imagination run wild.
"We text a lot," Tyndall said. "He’s said, ‘I’m ready, coach. I’m ready to go with whoever wants me, and I don’t care where that’s at. I’m just ready for the team that really wants to have me there because this is a dream come true and I’m ready to go where I’m wanted, appreciated and celebrated. I’m ready to impact and make a difference.'"
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.