After January, the pecking order of the NBA Draft never in doubt, with LSU’s forward Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram dominating draft talk and rocketing up boards. The freshman pair outshone all others, dominating opposition and appearing to be head and shoulders above the rest of the talent pool.
Simmons and Ingram fit the categories that the NBA needed: slashing threes with long bodies and the ability to handle the basketball. With the combine, and the draft processes that followed, the two again separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
Australian Simmons was sought out from high school for his freakish frame and athleticism. Standing a towering 6-foot-10 and weighing 240lbs, Simmons played most of his ball at LSU at the power forward position, which was out of position for the usually wing-oriented youngster.
But he excelled, racking up monster rebounding totals and assists on his way to All-American status. But the more impressive attribute for Simmons in his college days was that he was also LSU’s primary ball-handler in most sets. Simmons commanded the offense and was the main distributor.
Criticisms of Simmons were also apparent, however. He lacked any meaningful outside shot, opting instead for aggressive drives and unclean floaters. His command of the offense was poor – the offense itself was pretty average – as LSU struggled to stay above .500 for the season. The team also didn’t make the tournament, with Simmons frequently outshined by other top talent in the NBA Draft, like Buddy Hield of Oklahoma or Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere of Kentucky.
For Ingram, the lanky forward was spectacular at Duke on the offensive in, showing ability to play outside and hit the outside shot, as well as driving and dishing. His shooting ability elevated him up draft boards, as well as his ability to find teammates. While he never commanded the offense, Ingram was sensational in taking it to a new level. Duke was terrific on the offensive end, and had a true wing that could do it all.
But Ingram also was a huge question mark on defense. He showed flashes, but often Ingram got by on his size. Against NBA-level talent, the small forward would get blitzed playing the lackluster defense every night. Also, Ingram’s frame doesn’t condition him to be a dominant presence physically. Ingram isn’t the guy to lower his shoulder and get to the line, but more of a Kevin Durant circa 2010, who relies on his outside ability.
All of these criticisms and praises finally came to a head on Saturday night, as Simmons’ 76ers met Ingram’s Lakers in Summer League action. And it was a game of affirmation, with Simmons and Ingram fueling a show that caught the eye of plenty around the NBA to the potential of the budding young players.
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Ingram answered the calls of his defensive ability, blocking shots and playing tough assignment basketball on Simmons and even some guards in the rotation style zone defense the Lakers employed. On isolated man defense situations, Ingram also held his own, and played excellent denial in the post for the majority of the game. While not a ball stopper, Ingram was far from a liability on the defensive end.
Simmons looked terrific in his new role for the 76ers. While most speculation has Simmons looking to fit into the crowded frontcourt for Philly, as opposed to playing on the wing, he spent most of the night playing the 3.
And on offense, Simmons put on a passing clinic. Twice, Simmons had highlight-reel assists, feeding one on a laser pass to a cutter along the baseline, and on the second gathering his footing at the three-point line, driving, and delivering a perfect bounce pass to a driving teammate. Simmons showed off his ability to find open teammates, and captivated with how he can get by on offense even without a consistent shot.
Simmons had eight assists, but also seven turnovers. He was quickly forced into really bad situations, and looks lost on his jump-shot.
Even Ingram, known for his offense, struggled mightily on the offensive end. However, both players showed some serious flashes as to why their teams selected them.
Simmons especially looks like someone who can make teammates better, and looks like he will have a real impact this season.
Both players look really good – and that’s a relief for two franchises who desperately need them to be.