Each week throughout March Madness, DIME is profiling draft prospects from each region of the NCAA Tournament who we deem most intriguing. There’s no real rubric for this exercise. We’ll be be highlighting surefire top-five picks, run-of-the-mill first-rounders, and even guys who may not hear their name called at Barclays Center on June 23. There’s just one rule: Only players still participating in the Tournament will be considered.
March, needless to say, can make a prospect’s draft stock. The pressure of do-or-die basketball on the country’s biggest stage can ruin it, too. But NBA franchises will be carefully monitoring developments of the next three weeks regardless, altering draft boards in accordance with what scouts, general managers, and even the viewing public sees — possibly drastically altering their futures in the process.
The NCAA Tournament is about winning first and foremost. And not only will the following prospect wield a heavy hand when it comes to his current team’s fortunes, but perhaps those of his first professional one, too.
The Player: Brandon Ingram, 6-foot-9 freshman forward for Duke University.
The Present: Ingram averages 16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. He shoots 44.1 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from beyond the arc (on 5.4 attempts per game), and 68.8 percent from the free-throw line. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-Conference.
The Future: Standing nearly 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Ingram has freakish length for a wing player – the attribute most accounting for frequent comparisons to Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetkounmpo. He has the super slim build to match, too, weighing below 200 pounds and possessing a narrow base that suggests little room for growth. One major caveat: Ingram was born on Sept. 2, 1997, making him exceptionally green for the 2016 draft class and over a full year younger than his main competition for the No. 1 pick, LSU forward Ben Simmons.
Physical advancements are paramount to projecting Ingram’s potential at the next level. He’s already an elite spot-up shooter, and flashes off-dribble comfort rare in players of his size and experience. Similarly rangy wings like Durant, Antetokounmpo, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard only develop their advanced handle after multiple years in the NBA; others blessed with that natural profile never did. Ingram, obviously, isn’t a finished product in that regard, but already shows a canny understanding of pace and passing as a playmaker before turning 19. His middling efficiency in pick-and-rolls and isolations balloons when including passes, according to Synergy, crucial corollaries that stand to transition to the next level.
Ingram isn’t quite as disruptive defensively as base statistics indicate. He’s one of just 19 players in the country averaging at least 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game this season, but also leads that list in minutes played. Not every elite wing prospect can defend like Leonard, and Ingram doesn’t – that’s fine. What he does do defensively is compete on every possession, a mentality that’s supposedly one of the biggest differences between he and Simmons. In time, it’s easy to envision Ingram guarding multiple positions on a given possession without negative consequence. He could be that type of rare athlete a few years down down the line.