By Chris Molicki
Oden vs. Durant. Wiggins vs. Parker. Rose vs. Beasley. It’s always exciting when there’s a battle between two guys for the top spot in the draft. One player usually emerges as the frontrunner. However, that hasn’t happened yet for the Ben Simmons vs. Brandon Ingram debate, and I’m not so sure it will.
The main question when deciding between these two is whether Simmons’ massive upside is worth taking over a guy like Ingram, who had a high level of production at school that should translate to the NBA level. While both of these players project to be great, the 76ers are starving for someone that will change their franchise.
To start things off, let’s look at the biggest (and one of the only) knocks on Simmons: his shooting. The freshman from LSU spent most of his time in the paint, either off the dribble or in transition, and very little time on the perimeter. In fact, Simmons made only one 3-pointer all season on three attempts. Compare that to Ingram, who made more than two 3-pointers per game and shot 41% from behind the arc.
However, I fully believe that shooting is something that can be taught, especially to someone with as much talent as Simmons. This is his main flaw, and Simmons should lock himself in a gym with an NBA coaching staff until he develops a consistent jumper. There’ve been plenty of NBA big men who have been forced to develop an outside shot due to the shifting NBA landscape. Why won’t Simmons be able to do that same?
Otherwise, Simmons excels in pretty much every aspect of the game. He’s long, strong and athletic. He’s an elite rebounder and his passing and vision has been compared to LeBron James (while it’s obviously not yet on the same level as James, the comparisons are valid). And despite what some people are saying, he’s got a great work ethic and character. Many saw his freshman season at LSU as a red flag because he didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. But Simmons had a subpar supporting cast and poor coaching staff. It’s hard to ask a 19-year-old kid, even one with the talent of Simmons, to carry that himself. The Aussie is oozing with potential and has a great chance to reach his ceiling once he’s surrounded by NBA coaches and players.
Not to be overshadowed, Ingram has a very impressive and well-rounded game with one glaring flaw that also seems easily correctable: he’s too skinny. Once again, plenty of players bulk up once they make it to the league, and Ingram should be no different.
Ingram’s best qualities are his length and his shooting. An extremely long and imposing athlete, Ingram has the measurables to be a good NBA defender once his body fills out. And to have that smooth of a stroke at Ingram’s height is an extremely valuable trait.
But Ingram isn’t just a spot-up shooter. He’s got a solid off-the-dribble game, complete with head fakes, and quick enough foot speed to blow past bigger defenders. Ironically, some have compared him to Kevin Durant due to his shot, length, and ability to attack. While those comparisons are a little overblown, it is intriguing to look at this debate as LeBron vs. Durant, at least from a stylistic standpoint. Some teams may ask themselves, which type of player would they rather have? And there may not be a wrong answer.
From everything you’ve just read, you’re probably thinking that both of these players are going to be studs and it doesn’t matter who goes first. And in some ways you’re correct. But it does matter for the Sixers, who absolutely need to hit on this pick.
This pick is the culmination of the always optimistic yet saddening Hinkie era. All the pain and suffering that Sixer fans have endured is worth it if this pick turns out to be a franchise-changing transcendent player. And that’s why I think Simmons is the pick here.
Ingram is more NBA ready, at least from an offensive standpoint. He should be able to contribute more right away thanks to his superb shooting ability. But that’s not what Philly needs. They need a true centerpiece to build their team around. Ingram has the potential to be a superstar, but Simmons has a real shot to be an MVP-caliber player.
For the record, I’d take Simmons over Ingram for nearly any team. I’m a fan of the best player available theory, especially for teams with so many needs. Simmons should be the better player over the course of their respective careers, and while he may take longer to get to his apex than Ingram, he’s the better long term pick.
Once again, it’s hard to say there’s really a bad pick here. This isn’t Kyrie Irving vs. Derrick Williams, or even Derrick Rose vs. Michael Beasley. It’s a debate over two future stars. But Philly will be praying long and hard that they take the better one.