Since the moment the Lakers landed the No. 2 spot in the NBA Draft, the arguments have been endless in regards to who the more preferred prospect may be.
Need vs. Talent
Best Fit vs. Best Player Available
Brandon Ingram vs. Ben Simmons
While the Lakers won’t directly face this conundrum in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers will and their decision will also determine the Lakers’ decision.
When looking at the Lakers, their two most glaring holes are at center and small forward. Last season, the Lakers’ top three three-pointer shooters were D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams, all guards.
Nick Young and Metta World Peace, who saw most of their minutes at small forward last year, come third and fourth, respectively, but neither eclipsed 33 percent on their three-point percentage. Even more, chances are neither will be on the Lakers’ roster next season, either.
As a team, the Lakers were dead last in the NBA in three-point percentage.
Defensively, no one on the Lakers established themselves last season and especially not the Laker small forwards, whether it be Kobe Bryant, Young or World Peace.
Conveniently enough for the Lakers, one of the best players in the draft is a small forward that has drawn comparisons to the likes of Kevin Durant and Tayshaun Prince.
Brandon Ingram could step into the Lakers’ young core and plug one really big whole with his really big frame.
Is he more talented than Ben Simmons? In my opinion, no. Is he a better fit on the Lakers? Unequivocally yes. When watching Ingram, you see a player with a polished offensive game and a surprisingly adept defensive approach.
The freshman came on as the season went, eventually moving to the top of big boards by the end of the season. As the season progressed, Ingram grew more comfortable within himself and within his teammates, shining bright in the NCAA Tournament and solidifying his spot amongst many big boards.
It’s valid to consider Ingram the best player in the draft when he can do this:
Even with all of that in his arsenal, what makes Ingram most tantalizing is that he is just 18 years old, leaving NBA scouts drooling at the potential in front of him.
But what makes Ingram so desired and such a perfect fit for the Lakers? Let’s take a look.
Last season, the Lakers lacked both ball movement and outside shooting for much of the season. While the integration of a Warriors-like offense should help the former problem, the latter can really only be improved upon with the addition of talent.
On the season, Ingram shot 41 percent from beyond the arc and excelled as a spot-up shooter around the perimeter.
With the introduction of Walton’s offense, Ingram’s ability to catch-and-shoot from seemingly all angles makes him a potentially deadly weapon alongside D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
Ingram’s offense and IQ is advanced enough, as well, that he can adapt to how defenses play him, using his long frame and quick first step to get around a defender. For a player as thin as he appears, Ingram is more than willing to attack the basket off the pump-fake.
The last clip showcases another strength of Ingram’s which is his mid-range game. For college players and especially players as young as Ingram, having a polished mid-range game is incredibly rare, but Ingram mixes up his attacks off the dribble between going at the rim and pulling up from 15-18 feet.
For as dangerous as Ingram is when attacking off the catch, he’s just as dangerous when attacking on an isolation or against his defender 1-on-1.
Late in the season, Ingram was asked to do a lot for Duke, ranging from being the primary ball-handler to seeing time as a stretch four and even the center in some line-ups. Another surprising takeaway from watching Ingram is his ability, and willingness, to back down his defender and use his long arms to get a shot up and over his defender.
And with his athleticism, his ability to attack the rim and his second-jump ability lends him to easy put-backs as well.
For an 18-year old, Ingram’s scoring is incredibly polished and he can do it from all areas of the floor. Even more impressive is his play-making ability, especially when attacking the rim and on the catch.
The first two plays look very familiar to the ball movement and types of sets the Warriors run and the ones you’d expect the Lakers to run at times next season, making Ingram all the more interesting a prospect for the Lakers.
Clearly, his fit with the Lakers offensively would be seamless. He fits both a need in the rotation and a need on the court on the offensive end, providing elite scoring ability as a prospect, something that could further take pressure and attention off of the likes of Russell, Randle and Clarkson, opening up many possibilities.
For all Ingram would do offensively for the Lakers, his defense would be just as valuable.
As a 1-on-1 defender, Ingram has room to grow. But with the frame and athleticism he has, it’s obvious why most scouts believe he can, and will, develop into a top defender in the league. Even being an average defender would make him the Lakers’ best perimeter defender.
The biggest takeaway from watching film on Ingram’s defense is his shot-blocking ability. While it’s to be expected with his length, Ingram blocked a surprisingly high number of shots last season for a guard/forward, averaging 1.4 blocks per game.
His length greatly bothers smaller players, but his ability to quickly closeout on his man and others, namely on pick-and-rolls, makes him already a special defender.
Ingram also served, at times, as a last line of defense with injuries plaguing the Blue Devils, leaving him as the rim protector. While it’s not his most comfortable position, the fact he played there and did so with some success could show a potential future of a Lakers’ “Lineup of Death” featuring Ingram at the five.
The latter two examples show Ingram’s ability to contest shots, then immediately turn defense into offense going the other way, something the Lakers will likely do often in an up-tempo offense with players like Russell and Randle always wanting to push.
It takes just one look at Ingram to notice one of his biggest weaknesses: his frame. Draft Express lists Ingram at 6’9″, 196 pounds, which is rail thin. His build is similar to Kevin Durant’s out of college, which should be an expected physical development curve to project Ingram on.
At 18, his body still has physical maturing and filling out to do, but he will face challenges as a physically weaker and smaller player next year.
His lack of strength can also lead to tentativeness in attacking the rim at times and, when he does, he can be turned away by bigger, stronger, more physical players.
Ingram also tends to lose focus at times during games, especially defensively where he attended the Kobe Bryant School of Defense where you watch the ball and lose your man. Again, it’s a fixable issue, but an issue nonetheless.
As previously stated, Ingram isn’t a great 1-on-1 defender and isn’t someone who will lock down players…yet. The signs are there and the upside can be seen, but it’ll take some time to realize that potential. Furthermore, when you see and hear what Walton did for players like Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, the optimism grows.
Ingram is a great player now who still has a lot of potential to fulfill. He’s not as polished both physically and mentally as a player like Ben Simmons, but his ceiling is higher, his fit is better and he’s still, arguably, the best player in this draft.
Should the Lakers draft him, the core of Russell-Clarkson-Ingram-Randle would have clear roles moving forward and should give Laker fans PLENTY of reasons to be ecstatic about the future.
Ingram = better all around player than Simmons any day, every day.