Brandon Ingram spent most of his high school career as a kid with loads of potential due to his physical tools but without the strength, coordination or skill set to quite tap into them.
That changed during his final season in Kinston, and by the time he got to Duke, he was considered by many to be the only freshman in the country that belonged in the same conversation as Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere. After a terrific season with the Blue Devils where he was forced into playing as a small-ball four, Ingram impressed enough that there is a faction of scouts that still think he’s a better pick at No. 1 overall than Simmons.
How can a guy that weighs less than 200 pounds at nearly 6-foot-10 be considered a potential top pick, and what is it about Ingram that makes him so enticing at the next level?
Height: 6′ 9.5″
Wingspan: 7′ 3″
2015-16 Stats: 17.3 points, 6.8 boards, 41.0% 3PT
STRENGTHS: Ingram’s combination of perimeter ability and physical tools is something you rarely see anywhere. His height (6-foot-9.5) and his standing reach (measured at 9-foot-1.5 at Hoop Summit) are numbers that would be considered good for potential NBA centers. Ingram is a small forward with the potential to lineup at the shooting guard spot at the next level. NBA scouts look at him and see a player that can potentially guard small-ball fives in three years.
He’s a prototype “big” for what many think the future of the NBA looks like, because in addition to those physical tools, he happens to be a terrific perimeter scorer. Ingram started the year in a bit of a slump, but in December, Duke’s starting power forward suffered a season-ending injury and Ingram was forced into the front court. He became borderline-unguardable for long stretches, as there were times where he was the biggest player on the floor for the Blue Devils. He’s too tall for wings to guard and he’s too quick and mobile for bigs.
His skill-set starts with his ability to shoot the ball. He finished the year hitting 41.0 percent from three despite the slow start, and his catch-and-shoot PPP was 1.247, which isn’t all that far behind the pace set by Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray. More than a third of his offense as a freshman came in spot-up situations, but Mike Krzyzewski took full advantage of the inability of defenses to matchup with Ingram. Better than 36 percent of his offense came in ball-screens (as the handler), dribble hand-offs and isolations, not to mention the opportunities he was able to get in transition. He struggled a bit with his decision-making, which is natural when you’re being asked to force the issue in a role you haven’t played before. He also lacked the strength and explosiveness to consistently beat defenders to the rim and finish through contact (more on that in a bit).
That said, he already has the mobility the play on the perimeter, and his offensive repertoire — his ball-handling, footwork, jab series, understanding of double-moves and counters — is advanced for someone his age and size. All things considered, Ingram’s performance made it very easy to project him as an above-average perimeter scorer in the NBA.
The other thing that impressed about Ingram is that, while he didn’t have the strength to physically handle some of the bigger players he faced, the toughness was there. The competitiveness was there. Not having the strength to push back is different than not having the desire to fight back.
WEAKNESSES: At this point, the single-biggest weakness in Ingram’s game is his weakness.
Duke listed him at 190 pounds this season, and that was after he put on nearly 20 pounds his first summer on campus. But it’s important to remember here that Ingram is a “young” freshman. He doesn’t turn 19 until September — half of the class of 2016 is older than he is — and he’s already a late-bloomer. He grew nearly eight inches during high school and was never really considered this caliber of prospect until Coach K unleashed him a month into the season.
Ingram has the frame and the broad shoulders needed to carry 230-240 pounds without getting to a point where he is too heavy. And assuming he is able to add that weight, it should significantly help him in some of the areas that he struggled the post: Holding position in the post, on both ends of the floor, and finishing through contact offensively. According to Synergy, he shot under 47 percent on runners, shots around the rim and post-ups despite drawing a fair number of fouls.
The other area that Ingram struggles is with his explosiveness, and this won’t be answered quite as easily as the weight issue. His first step isn’t overly-quick and he’s not an explosive leaper, which is part of the reason he had some issues in his pull-up game this season; he shot 30 percent on pull-ups, per Synergy’s logs. He was able to get by people at this level because of his length — both his strides and his arms — but that tends to even out at the NBA level.
That will develop as he continues to grow into his body — he still moves at times like the gangly, awkward teenager he is — but even with the help of an NBA strength and conditioning program, he’s never turning into Andrew Wiggins. And it’s that athleticism aspect that will determine whether Ingram becomes a player that is simply used to take advantage of a mismatch or an elite NBA scoring threat.
Defensively, Ingram is still a bit of an unknown. He was bad for long stretches last season, but Duke’s utter lack of depth put them in a position where Ingram could not afford to foul or to expend much energy defensively.
NBA COMPARISON: Kevin Durant is the lazy answer here, right? He’s a tall and skinny all-american whose ability to almost entirely centered around his perimeter game. Their profiles are similar, and given the uniqueness of their skill sets, using Durant isn’t a bad baseline as long as you understand there’s not a chance that Ingram can end up being as good as Durant, who is a generational talent and a top five player in the NBA. He’s Diet Kevin Durant, if you will.
Two other names to consider here are Tayshaun Prince and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s already a better shooter than Antetokounmpo and he’s a more well-rounded scorer than Prince, but if you’re trying to get an idea of role and impact, it’s them.
OUTLOOK: I don’t think that Ingram has a ceiling as high as Simmons’, but the difference is that I think Ingram is significantly more likely to reach that ceiling. And while he may never turn into a franchise-altering talent, I think he’s an ideal fit for the Lakers, assuming Luke Walton decides to bring the Warriors’ style of play down the coast with him.
The key with Ingram isn’t whether or not he can add the weight (I think he will) or how well his ability translates to the next level (he’s going to be a weapon, that’s for sure), the question is going to be just how much his athleticism catches up to his skills. Remember, he was 6-foot-2 as a high school freshman and has the physical profile of a guy that, even five years ago, would have been a post player. He’s also the youngest collegiate player in this draft, turning 19 in September. He hasn’t fully grown into his body yet.
So what happens when he gets into the NBA’s strength and conditioning programs? Does he get quicker? Does he get more explosive? Does that lateral mobility come around? Does he get more shifty in the lane? Can he better handle contact around the rim?
I don’t think he ever becomes Kevin Durant. I’m not sure there will ever be another Kevin Durant. But I do think that Ingram’s floor is as a starter on a playoff team while his ceiling is as an all-star and a second- or third-option on a title contender.