The ESPN Hype Machine is out in full force. Is Ben Simmons the best prospect since LeBron? How does he compare to previous top picks? Which are the teams with the best chances of grabbing Simmons? With which teams does Simmons fit best (lololol)?
ESPN's shameless self-promotion can be pretty tiring. (Will this New Year's Eve be awesome, ESPN??) But they're right in that Simmons has been as good as advertised so far this year, and perhaps even better. He looks like a legitimate, franchise-altering player worth tanking the season for.
But very quietly, another player has emerged as having a historic freshman season. Brandon Ingram struggled pretty badly coming out of the gate. On December 2, I wrote, "It's unclear what Ingram is good at, if anything," as he had been inconsistent across all facets of the game. And from that moment on, he has been setting the world on fire.
In 9 games since the start of December, Ingram has been putting up numbers of 25 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes. Put simply, that's production that is completely unmatched by any wing player of the last three years, and among the best production of the last 15 years. Add in that he's been doing this on 64.1% TS and has shot 45.2% from three in that time, and it's starting to look more and more like he's a future superstar in waiting.
Jake has already covered the scouting aspects of the manner in which Ingram is putting up these numbers. So let's put the numbers themselves in context.
Here's how this stretch compares to some of the best college wing prospects of the last 15 years:
That's nuts. NUTS.
Comparing any prospect to all time greats is always problematic, as there's no way to predict the kind of continued development necessary to reach the same level of play as those greats. But as a collegiate prospect, Durant is the only player of the last ten years who compares to the production Ingram has put up recently. Durant's insane usage rate might give him the slight edge overall, but it's clear that the two players are, at the very least, comparable as prospects. That extends beyond these few numbers:
(With the exception of TS% and 3FG%, these are season-long numbers for Ingram. Advanced stats are unavailable for Durant, so I had to go with per 40's.)
Perhaps most impressive for Ingram are his high steal and block rates for a wing. Durant is the only prospect among those listed who approaches what Ingram has accomplished in that area. His 5.0% block rate is unique among wing prospects, and actually challenges some of his big man peers in that arena. Ivan Rabb only blocks 4.7% of all shots attempted while he's on the floor. Thomas Bryant is at 5.2%.
Perhaps the most flattering comparison of Ingram's blocking ability is to that of one Jerami Grant, who has been putting up absurd block numbers for a wing in the NBA the last two years. As a freshman at Syracuse, Grant "only" blocked 3.9% of shots, a far cry from Ingram's 5%. Since getting to the NBA, this is an area of Jerami's game that he's actually improved upon, sporting higher block rates in both years with the Sixers than he ever did at Syracuse. But even then, his best rate is 4.7%, still behind what Ingram is doing right now. That's how outlier his shot blocking skill is.
Raw stats in and of themselves aren't necessarily anything to get up in arms about. But Ingram combines insane freshman year production with physical tools that are practically unparalleled among wing players. Most notable among those tools are his go-go gadget arms, which have enabled him to cause so much havoc defensively (despite still struggling with defensive principles). Of 29 small forwards selected in the lottery in the last ten years (for which I could find data), the average wingspan was 6'11.5. Ingram's arms are a full three and a half inches longer than that, and they are longer than all recent lottery picks except for Durant.
These are the types of tools that would see Ingram selected in the lottery of any draft regardless of production. They got Rudy Gay drafted at 8th overall despite producing very little in his time at UConn. When you combine these type of 99th percentile physical tools with 99th percentile on-court production, it portends major things from Ingram in the future.
All this is still a small sample. It has only been nine games, and while Ingram's shooting stroke looks pure, his free throw percentage suggests that we may be looking a little bit at fool's gold. Still, if Ingram can maintain 80% of the production that he has put up so far, he looks like a generational wing talent capable of becoming a Top 5 NBA player. All the hype has gone to Simmons so far, but 2016 has two franchise-changing prospects. And that's awesome news for the Sixers.