Owning the No.1 pick, the 76ers have the burden of choosing between Duke’s Brandon Ingram or LSU’s Ben Simmons.
In 2014, former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie set out to change the fortunes of the one of the NBA’s great franchises through an unconventional method. The “Tanking” process was adopted to put the 76ers in the best position to draft Kansas freshman standout Andrew Wiggins. After failing to land the top pick needed to acquire the talented swingman, the 76ers ended up drafting his teammate, center Joel Embiid with the third overall pick. Embiid has yet to play in an NBA game due to a nagging injury to his right foot. Last season, the team once again landed the third overall pick and selected Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor was selected largely in part because of the uncertainty of Embiid’s basketball future.
The third time was a charm as the 76ers won the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in 20 seasons (Allen Iverson). Mysterously, Hinkie, the mastermind behind “The Plan” resigned in April. The team’s new GM Brian Colangelo now has the task of finishing what Hinkie started. It begins with the selection of scoring swing man Brandon Ingram, the multi-faceted Ben Simmons or (GULP) trading the pick.
Ben Simmons is the NBA’s International Man of Mystery. The 6’10” Australian-born prodigy brings more questions than answers to the NBA. Simmons’ talent is gospel and that may be enough for the 76ers to take a chance on the multi-faceted standout. The concern surrounding Simmons is are we about to witness the NBA’s next transitional star or is he Dante Exum with a bigger bag of tricks? Exum is a 6’6″ point guard from Melbourne who was the 5th pick in the 2014 draft. Exum has yet to see his career pan out with the Utah Jazz. I don’t foresee this being the case with Simmons, but those moments in big games when he chose to defer and not dominate are a concern.
Simmons’ cavalier approach at key points in games has raised some eyebrows throughout the basketball landscape. Was it a matter of Simmons physically saving himself for the NBA or is this the best we’re going to see? Would Simmons have faded in games like this had he played at Duke, Kansas or North Carolina? Would we have been sold on him more as a player had he played with a more talented supporting cast? Amid all the suggestions and theories about Simmons, he still averaged 19.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest as a freshman.
Simmons’ plethora of skills for a man his size make him an automatic mismatch against guards and some forwards. How will he fare defensively against smaller, quicker guards and bigger forwards — something we didn’t see much of in Baton Rogue? Is he dedicated on improving his jump shot despite averaging 19 points per contest? Just to be fair, Magic Johnson came into the NBA as a 6’9″ point guard devoid of a consistent outside stroke. Simmons has the tools to make his teammates better, but is he willing to improve as a player? If nothing else, we know Simmons is brand-driven. With a documentary on his season at LSU set to drop before the upcoming NBA season and a mega-million dollar sneaker deal on the table, Simmons is already the stuff of legend.
We’re now ready to see it play out at the highest level.
The days when we used to tease standout players from Duke University who couldn’t cut it at the NBA level are over. Duke’s latest entry, forward Brandon Ingram may be Coach K’s most offensively polished player to enter the league since Jabari Parker two seasons ago.
At 6’9″ and 190 pounds, Ingram could stand a few more meals, but the offensive explosiveness of the lanky forward will allow him to feast at the NBA level. Unlike Simmons, Ingram was blessed with a decent supporting cast led by senior guard Grayson Allen who led the team in scoring. Ingram finished second on the team in scoring (17.3) and rebounds (6.8), but when in came to attacking the basket, he was Duke’s unquestioned leader.
Ingram’s wiry frame proved to be an asset as it helped him develop into an explosive slasher, preventing him from taking a pounding in the paint. One decisive nod he gets above Simmons is his perimeter game, Ingram shot 41 percent from beyond the arc at nearly six attempts per game.
Ingram can become a top perimeter defender with his pterodactyl-like wing span. He was second on the Blue Devils with 1.5 blocks per game.
There’s been plenty of talk about Ingram being the second version of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. That kind of talk is premature at best. What I see in Ingram today is a player who will be a tough guard due to his size and ability to score from the perimeter. He will excel quickly in the NBA transition game. Los Angeles might be a better fit for Ingram just because the pressure to score in bunches won’t be there right away.
For the last four seasons the Sixers have taken the best player available simply for stockpiling tradeable assets. After striking the No.1 pick it’s time to start putting pieces in their proper place. The dilemma is they could use players of Ingram and Simmons skill set immediately. Either player is a step in the right direction, but a decision has to be made on which player is best suited for the current roster.
If the Sixers take Simmons, they’ll still be without a go-to scorer and with the current roster the chances of landing a top scorer in free agency are slim. If they take Ingram, they’ll still be in the hunt for an offensive facilitator — putting that much more pressure on Ingram to score. See Jahlil Okafor, 2015-16.
The one positive the Sixers and the City of Philadelphia are hanging on is the long-awaited debuts of center Joel Embiid and Turkish standout Dario Saric. If both can come in and contribute and remain healthy, it may not matter who’s taken No.1.