NBA Draft Big Board: Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram vie for No. 1

Ben Simmons has company at the top of the 2016 NBA Draft.

Last time around, I noted that the race for the No. 1 overall pick was heating up as Duke’s Brandon Ingram had been making a bit of a leap forward by the time mid-December rolled around. Well, that race is on in earnest, folks.

Folks around the NBA are starting to come around on the idea that Ingram and Simmons are essentially 1A and 1B in this draft class. There are a lot of factors that have brought us to this point, and plenty of them point in Ingram’s favor. For one, he’s a year younger than Simmons as a true 18-year-old. His shot-making ability is quite a bit stronger than Simmons’ at this point, due to the way he can shoot both off the catch or after the bounce. At nearly 6-feet-10 with a 7-3 wingspan, his frame also looks to be a bit better than that of Simmons. And due to that length, he can get his shot basically against anyone he’s matched up against. Plus, it’s much easier to find a fit in the modern, spacing-oriented NBA for Ingram than it is for Simmons, who still hasn’t quite figured out how to play off the ball yet.

Having said all of that, on this big board, where the prospects are evaluated in a vacuum, I just can’t bring myself to place Ingram ahead. The middle point of Ingram’s potential outcomes is probably higher than Simmons’, but I cannot say that Simmons doesn’t have a higher ceiling. Due to his ability to create shots for himself and for others, Simmons can be the genuine focal point of an offense in a way that I’m not sure Ingram ever will be due to his average quickness. Again, Ingram is extremely young and may still have some explosiveness to grow into as his body matures. But Simmons is just the better athlete, and when you combine that with his preternatural basketball sense it’s tough to pass up on a ceiling that could see him eventually become a top-10 player in the league if things broke right and he continued to develop his jump shot.

Simmons can’t let up though. If he wants to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, he’s going to need to close the season strong and cut back on the disappearing acts that have seen him become a background piece at times in LSU’s offense. If that happens more often and Ingram continues his trajectory of growth this season, the team that gets the No. 1 overall pick could easily decide that Ingram is the better fit for what they want to build.

Just like last season, the race for the No. 1 pick is heating up as conference season builds to a crescendo. So strap on in and prepare for a pretty bumpy ride until that last Thursday in June arrives.

Brandon Ingram is in the mix for No. 1 overall. (USATSI)
Brandon Ingram is in the mix for No. 1 overall. (USATSI)

Other notes:

  • Typically on this board, I do not rank freshmen outside of the top 50. However, with the new rules in play this season regarding underclassmen now being able to declare for as many drafts as they want and then pull out at the end of May, I am currently re-evaluating that rule. For this board, I have continued to not rank freshmen in my top 50. However, I’m willing to be swayed on it if you feel strongly one way or the other. Feel free to reach out to me if you have such an opinion.
  • The overall strength of this class is still absolutely trending on the low end due to a weak collegiate class. The lottery class is just not strong once you get past the top three players. There are two factors at play there that have contributed to making this collegiate group not particularly strong. Number one, more freshmen declared for the NBA Draft last season than in any other draft previously, sapping the college game of talent. Number two, the freshman class entering this season’s college season is simply not that strong at the high end. Then, to make matters worse, plenty of the players who were expected to make impacts this season have really struggled, such as Skal Labissiere, Malik Newman, Isaiah Briscoe and Cheick Diallo.
  • However, there is reason for hope in the international class. I currently have three internationals in my projected top 14, six players in my top 30 and 12 in the top 50. This group is really helping to bring the depth in this draft from below average to potentially average.
  • One major riser this time around is presumptive Wooden Award winner Buddy Hield. Hield is someone I came into the season a bit higher on than most, projecting him as a first-round pick throughout the process. However, he has improved beyond what I expected. He has become an absolutely lethal shooter who has made 52 percent of his 166 3-point attempts. Also, Hield has become a legitimate threat attacking closeouts in the half-court due to his ability to handle the ball in tigher spaces. Put that together with his ability to get out into transition, his desire to compete on the defensive end and the intangible desire he has to improve, I’ve now placed him at No. 8 on this board. He’s the kind of guy that a team is going to fall in love with due to his work ethic and personality. Also, shooting is at a premium in this draft, making his skill set all the more desirable.

Buddy Hield is in the convo for national player of the year, without question. (USATSI)

  • Another player on the rise: Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis. Ulis is a gamer, pure and simple. He’s a competitor who acts like a coach on the floor despite his youth. He plays angry and with attitude, but he’s also poised and collected. He knows when to go out and get his own shot just as well as when to try and get everyone involved in the offense. Basically, despite his size, Ulis is just one of those players that NBA guys are going to want to go to battle with. That’s why he’s No. 26 on this board. Again, my guess is that a team falls in love with him whenever he declares and picks him higher than expected.
  • A few other risers worth noting: Ivan Rabb at No. 9, Malik Beasley at No. 28, Jarrod Uthoff at No. 34, A.J. Hammons at No. 35 and Wayne Selden at No. 57.
  • Some players who have fallen: most of the freshman class. Jaylen Brown is now No. 11, Labissiere is at No. 13, Diallo is No. 29, Malik Newman is No. 49 and Isaiah Briscoe is out of the top 50.
  • A few older players have stepped into the back-end of the 150. Egidijus Mockevicius is arguably the nation’s best rebounder at Evansville, and deserves a spot. Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney is undersized, but he’s tough, rebounds the ball and could make an impact at Summer League like Alan Williams did last year. Kevin Punter and Julian Jacobs are both combo guards, but have different skill sets. Jacobs is the prototypical “just a jump shot away” type of player. At 6-4, he’s a tremendous athlete who can get into the lane and finish at the rim as well as distribute for others. Punter, on the other hand, is more of the shooter variety. He can really get hot in a hurry, has improved his jumper tremendously and is an incredible worker that a team could fall in love with.
  • However, none of these guys compare to the enigma that is Chris Boucher at Oregon. Evaluators I’ve spoken with are all over the board with him. At 23 with just one year of major college basketball experience, he might be among the most raw prospects in this entire class. But at 6-10 with a 7-4 wingspan, he’s second in the nation in block rate at 13 percent, plus he can step away from the basket and knock down 3-pointers (he’s shooting 34 percent on 67 attempts this year). Then again, he also might weigh less than 200 pounds. So what do you do with an older, skinny prospect with a strange background who might have one of the most tantalizing skillsets in the draft? He’s just outside of my top 100 for now.

Here is the full board:

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