From George Gervin to Kevin Durant, sleek and skilled guys who can put up big numbers from the perimeter are rare and highly valued in the NBA. Thus, Duke's Brandon Ingram, a former McDonald's All-American, is an intriguing prospect. Here's a closer look at this incredibly gifted player who is a consensus top-two pick in the draft.
What Ingram brings on offense
In college Ingram showed he can square up his body as he finishes at the rim, a skill rarely seen in young players. They often opt for the easier option: just tossing, scooping or kind of throwing the ball to the rim with an extended arm, to circumvent the defender. (Sometimes the scoop or half-hook is the right play, and though Ingram isn't proficient at that now, he likely soon will be.) But power shots taken under control are an important part of any scorer's arsenal, and it takes strength and mental determination to square up at the end of a drive.
While Ingram isn't great in that area yet, this part of his game will grow significantly as he gets stronger.
Ingram also has left-handed quick attack that reminds me of Bernard King. While the 18-year-old doesn't frequently blow by his man, his quick release and size make it awfully hard for defenders to bother the shot, even if the defender is in good position. Defenses will want to force Ingram toward the baseline when he is on the left wing and keep him from the middle.
But it's not just the quick release. Ingram's release point also makes his shot hard to contest. The ball ends up a little behind his head and is shot with a good arc. It's a trick guards learn early on so they can get shots off against taller defenders. For a player the size and length of Ingram -- he's 6-10 -- it makes him even more challenging to disrupt once he begins his shooting motion, as evident below.
In terms of outside shooting, young spot-up players often need to have their feet set and their bodies square as they catch the ball to shoot effectively. It is much harder if they have to do that after they have caught the ball. This is the part of Ingram's game that seems more advanced, suggesting he already has a good understanding of how to create space for his shot without dribbling.
Many shooters also need a good pass to help them initiate their shooting sequence. Off-target passes tend to disrupt rhythm. It's not a red flag or concern, just something teammates have to be aware of when passing to a shooter who often misses (or doesn't shoot at all) off bad passes. Ingram, though, looks good on most of his shots, with a great release point, good balance and typically an exaggerated follow-through -- and he does these things consistently even on bad passes:
Lastly, to be a primary ball handler in the NBA (not the primary guy), Ingram has to dramatically improve in the ball-screen game. Growing as much as he has as quickly as he did, Ingram's body still hasn't caught up to his skill. He is too "high-waisted" on drives, and that makes it impossible to stop and start effectively every time. Lowering his hips and getting his dribble lower will give him more command as a driver, penetrator and pick-and-roll player. But there are some signs that he will eventually be capable of doing this effectively.
What Ingram brings on defense
It's important to remember that although Ingram has a special body, he is nowhere close to being a special athlete. However, he moves his feet well in open space, a talent that will help him defend smaller guys on the perimeter. And he is willing to take hits while battling guys; he is very thin but doesn't shy from contact.
There is nothing about his game on this end of the court that has me worried about him at the next level. Ingram has the potential to be an excellent defender, with length that will help him deny opponents important spots on the court, while he gets deflections, blocks and steals.
But without a good defensive coach and a good system overall to play in, Ingram can end up being a liability on defense. At Duke, he was not often asked to be a lockdown defender, and it isn't something he seems to relish.
Concerns about Ingram?
There are no concerns about Ingram's overall talent and place in the NBA. By all appearances he is a shining example of what we hope young NBA players look, play and act like. Great teammate, great work ethic, humble yet confident. There's no reason to think Ingram won't reach his potential.
On the court, I'd like to see him do a few things better: race the court more often in transition, be hungrier to contest shots and have a better plan to score quickly in the post. But these are all skills he can pick up as a pro. There's nothing I have seen or heard to suggest he won't work tirelessly until he does develop those skills.
So how high is Ingram's ceiling?
It's unlikely Ingram will ever be as athletic and explosive as Kevin Durant -- or as tall. But he does share some physical similarities and skill with KD, and he does have the mindset and talent to be a premier scorer.
His footwork and timing can also be elite-level skills, like Carmelo Anthony's, and Ingram will undoubtedly be used at both forward positions on each end of the court. Meanwhile, his ability to shoot suggests he can play a role like Kawhi Leonard did as a rookie.
Still, Ingram will need to dramatically improve as an athlete to ever be in the conversation of best player in the league. This is something not likely to happen. Being a seven-time All-Star before he turns 30 is very much in the picture.