Philadelphia 76ers 2016 re-draft: Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram?

Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons first overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. Was he the right choice?

In the wake of all the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade talks, a lot of people have drawn a line in the sand in their defense of Ben Simmons and how valuable he is to the future of the Philadelphia 76ers. When he was taken first overall in the 2016 NBA draft, he was seen as a can’t-miss talent with LeBron-lite potential. Since then he has been named the Rookie of the Year, made two All-star teams, and last season was named third team All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team. At the age of 24 with the kind of ability and athleticism that makes other stud athletes drool, the future should be glaringly bright for our Aussie hero. But what if he wasn’t even the right pick in the first place?

Back in the summer of 2016 there were actually two players in the running for that first pick. Simmons and Brandon Ingram of Duke. Both had fantastic freshman seasons in college and both were believed to be future All-Stars.

A large majority of NBA scouts, media, and prognosticators believed that Simmons was more NBA ready, with both a higher floor and ceiling than Ingram, and his size and strength was a major consideration. Ingram was three inches shorter than Simmons (but with a 7-foot-4 wingspan!) and seriously underweight. He had shown flashes of amazing offensive abilities but he would be more of a project, having to work on consistency while gaining weight. If he grew as a player, Ingram would fit perfectly next to Joel Embiid. But the Sixers had anxious fans trying to process The Process and couldn’t risk passing on the sure thing that Ben Simmons presented. In hindsight, did they make the right decision?

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When it comes to Simmons, he is such a polarizing and unusual talent that the answers are rarely simple.  He is deserving of every accolade that he has received. He is a completely unique defensive player, capable of guarding any player, at any position. His speed, strength, and basketball I.Q. are among the best in the world. He handles the ball and sees the court like a point guard, rebounds like a power forward, and has a nose for the ball like no one else. The only knock on him is a big one — scoring.

Simmons moves with the agility of a dancer on defense but looks genuinely uncomfortable attempting to put the ball in the basket. He is only 24, so it is often said that he will grow his game, but that is becoming less realistic. He only has two ways to score: drive to the rim or shoot open shots. (Which he has looked unwilling to do.) He has poor offensive footwork, no spin moves, no floaters, no runners, no teardrops, no offensive touch whatsoever. He is a surprisingly bad post-up player, poor free throw shooter, and consistently avoids contact, fading away from defenders instead of trying to use his strength, draw contact and force fouls.

Lots of players improve as they get older and add things to their game, but no player in the history of basketball has ever become a completely different offensive player at the age of 24. By this stage of your career you can certainly improve existing skills, but your offensive habits are set in concrete. You are who you are.

Brandon Ingram’s rookie season was forgettable, as the weight problems and growing pains proved to be exactly as expected. Sixers fans looked at his first year in Los Angeles and laughed, thinking they had dodged a bullet. But Ingram is more than just a special talent, he’s also a gym rat who is constantly working on his moves and his shot.

By his second year he began showing flashes and by his third he was beginning to force people to take notice. A trade to New Orleans and subsequent injury forced him to look at his form more closely and begin to use his legs more and his arms less on his jump shot. That small change, combined with all of his hard work and a new opportunity in New Orleans, has been all he needed.

Ingram is now exactly the kind of offensive player that the Sixers wish they had, and they could have taken him themselves five years ago. He is a fantastic shooter and scorer from all three levels, and capable of creating his own shot at any time against any defender. His ball handling and passing have improved, making him a better creator, and his footwork has improved on defense. J.J. Redick recently said on his podcast that he believed Ingram has top ten ability and can imagine him one day averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists a game.

For all of the truly hardcore Ben Simmons fans out there who are getting angry reading this and believe this to be heresy, consider this. Over the last two years Jayson Tatum in Boston has consistently received high praise among the national media, who have called him the best young offensive player in the game and a future MVP candidate. How many of you would trade Ben for Tatum straight up, right now? (Try hard not to think about Markelle Fultz while doing this!)

Here are some stats to factor into your decision:

Player A — 46% FG, 39% 3P, 85% FT, 5.9 FT attempts per game, 6.1 Rebs., 4.2 Asts., 1.0 Stls., 0.6 Blks., 23.8 Pts.

Player B — 45% FG, 40% 3P, 81% FT, 4.7 FT attempts per game, 7.0 Rebs., 3.0 Asts., 1.4 Stls., 0.9 Blks., 23.4 Pts.

Those are last year’s Ingram and Tatum stats, with very similar games played and minutes per game. Which player is Ingram and which one is Tatum?  If you aren’t sure, that is precisely the point. Whether it’s because of the slow start to his career or because his evolution is happening in a market less rabid than Boston, Ingram’s ascension is being overlooked and his success shines a glaring light on how little Simmons has grown his game.  (For the record, Player A is Ingram.)

The verdict? At the age of 23, Ingram is younger than Simmons and his needle is pointed way up as his game keeps improving and growing. His ability to get his own shot and score from anywhere on the floor would make him the ideal partner for Joel Embiid.

Simmons has improved his defense but on offense he appears to have leveled off, or perhaps worse — peaked. It does not appear as if Ben will ever live up to the lofty LeBron 2.0 hype that followed him pre-draft, but seems more likely to be a much better version of Draymond Green, which is not a terrible thing.  He will still be a top-20 player and multiple-time All-star with the ability to help a good team win a championship.

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But all in all, with the gift of hindsight, if the Sixers could redo the 2016 NBA Draft, they would have to take Brandon Ingram.