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PBT’s 2016 NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Brandon Ingram

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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″
Weight: 190
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.

LeBron and Lakers top Tatum’s big afternoon for Celtics 114-112

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LOS ANGELES (AP) LeBron James scored 29 points and put the Lakers ahead on a fallaway jumper with 30 seconds to play, and Los Angeles split its season series with the Boston Celtics with a 114-112 victory Sunday.

James missed a tying free throw moments before he coolly nailed the shot the put the Lakers ahead to stay in a frenetic fourth quarter to cap the latest chapter of this famed NBA rivalry.

Anthony Davis had 32 points and 13 rebounds in the fifth straight win overall for the Lakers, who took a 32-point blowout loss in Boston last month.

Davis hit two free throws with 12.3 seconds left and added one more with 6.7 seconds to play, before Jayson Tatum was called for charging in the final second as he attempted to create one last basket.

Tatum matched his career high with 41 points for the Celtics, who had won 12 of 14 starting with that dominant win over the Lakers in January.

Boston turned the ball over with 15.5 seconds left after James’ big shot, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens got a technical foul for arguing about it. Davis missed that free throw, however.

Grant Williams hit two free throws for Boston immediately afterward, and Davis hit one of two to give a final chance to the Celtics.

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points for Boston, but Kemba Walker missed his second straight game with left knee soreness.

The rematch was far more competitive than the teams’ first meeting this season, with both taking small leads in the fourth quarter before the exciting finish.

Davis’ third 3-pointer put the Lakers up 108-105 with 2:08 to play, but Gordon Hayward hit a jumper before Brown’s 3-pointer put the Celtics back ahead 110-108 with 1:17 to go.

With the Lakers’ immediate return to excellence since beating out Boston to acquire Davis last summer, these longtime rivals are both playoff-bound championship contenders yet again.

Los Angeles is comfortably atop the Western Conference standings, while the Celtics sit third in the East. Both teams have a decent shot of meeting in the NBA Finals for the 13th time if they continue to grow from big games like this thriller.

Tatum underlined his growing superstardom by matching the career high he set against New Orleans last month. He scored 16 points in a five-minute barrage alone during the third quarter, finishing the period with 18.

The Lakers hung in with 16 points in the third from Davis after his quiet first half.

Walker scored 20 points against the Lakers last month to beat James for the first time in the stars’ 29 career meetings. The Lakers took their worst loss of the season in that initial meeting while getting just 23 minutes from Davis, who had just returned from a two-week injury absence.

The rematch featured much more defense than the teams’ first meeting, with Rajon Rondo and Brown both making big steals for their respective clubs. Only Tatum made a major offensive impact in the first half with 19 points.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Walker’s injury is “not a long-term thing,” Stevens said. Walker did work in the weight room before the game. … The bench scored just five points in the first three quarters, including only one field goal, and finished with 11 points.

Lakers: James went down in pain early in the fourth quarter when Daniel Theis ran into him under the basket. James stayed in the game after a timeout. … Rondo spent much of the pregame warmup chatting with Kevin Garnett, his longtime Celtics teammate. Garnett then watched the game from the baseline near the LA bench with Lakers part-owner Patrick Soon-Shiong. … The matchup is always a hot ticket for celebrities. Fans near courtside included Eddie Murphy, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Lakers: Host the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jaren Jackson Jr. out for at least two weeks for Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gordon Hayward
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The Memphis Grizzlies announced that Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a sprained left knee late during the second quarter of Friday’s game vs the Los Angeles Lakers:

Memphis says Jackson will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his second year, Jackson has been a big part of the Grizzlies surprising success. Memphis is currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 28-28. Jackson has proven to be an ideal running mate for rookie point guard Ja Morant, as the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone expected.

With Jackson out, Memphis will need to replace 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Jackson also regularly functions as the Grizzlies backup center, sliding over to play the pivot when starter Jonas Valanciunas is out.

With Jackson out for at least two weeks, and potentially longer, Memphis will lean on Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke at the four. The trickle-down impact may be more minutes for backup center Gorgui Dieng, who was acquired at the trade deadline, up front behind Valanciunas. In addition, Josh Jackson, who spent the first few months of the season in the G-League, has had a bit of resurgence in recent weeks. With Anderson likely to play more at power forward, Jackson may see even more minutes on the wing.

Ben Simmons out at least through Monday

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons‘ troublesome back will keep him out at least through Monday reports NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Winters reports that Simmons went through testing upon the Sixers return to Philadelphia on Sunday and will have further testing done on Monday:

Simmons missed the first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday due to back soreness. He then exited Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks after playing less than five minutes.

Simmons went to his second-straight All-Star game last week. He’s averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game through 54 games this season.

An up-and-down season sees Philadelphia currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are an equal 1.5 games behind Miami for fourth and ahead of Indiana in sixth. The Sixers would love to climb to fourth for homecourt advantage in the postseason, as they’ve been dominant at home with a 26-2 record, while underwhelming on the road at just 9-20.

With Joel Embiid continuing to suffer from injuries, while also having his minutes managed, Philadelphia can’t afford to be without Simmons for long. The 76ers added depth on the wing at the trade deadline with Alec Bucks and Glenn Robinson III, but have little behind Simmons at point guard. Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place on Thursday, but did not play on Saturday until the game was well in-hand for Milwaukee.

Lance Stephenson hopes strong season in China springboards him back to NBA

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The Chinese Basketball Association season is up in the air because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The season is postponed and, while there is talk of restarting it on April 1, there are more questions than answers about that plan right now.

Lance Stephenson was in China playing for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and — as many American scorers can do against the soft defenses in the CBA — put up impressive numbers. Stephenson is hoping to use that as a springboard back to the NBA, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Will it work for Stephenson? Maybe. It only takes one GM looking for a little scoring punch down the stretch to buy-in.

However, GMs also know the numbers are inflated in China and it doesn’t translate to being able to do the same thing in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette is example 1A. Or, here are the top five scorers in the Chinese league so far this season:

1. Dominique Jones (Jilin Northeast Tigers) 37.8
2. Joe Young (Nanjing Monkey Kings) 35.9
3. Darius Adams (Qingdao Eagles) 34.9
4. Tyler Hansbrough (Sichuan Blue Whales) 32.3
5. Jonathan Gibson (Jiangsu Dragons) 31.2

All of those guys, and a lot more, would like to use China as a springboard back to the NBA. That, however, is proving to be a long leap.