NEW YORK — Brandon Ingram and Kris Dunn are at opposite sides of the age spectrum among incoming NBA rookies. Ingram, just 18, is the youngest American-born player expected to go in the lottery (Dragan Bender of Maccabi Tel Aviv is slightly younger). Dunn, at 22, is only a few months younger than heralded senior Buddy Hield. The age discrepancy showed itself occasionally in the way they carried themselves when we got the opportunity to chat with them last week as part of a special Speed Stick inspired look at what it’s like off the court for NBA lottery picks.
I don’t pay too much attention to the off-court nonsense, except for work, but NBA rookies don’t have much of a choice. They’re trying to capitalize on their moment in the spotlight because the window for big money can close quickly (just ask Adam Morrison). That means commercials and interviews — like the one I did with both of them in a dark, nondescript space along 39th Street in midtown Manhattan.
Both Ingram and Dunn are tabbed by most draft analysts to go within the first few picks when names are called Thursday night. Many feel Ingram is the second-best player in the draft, and his smooth shooting and length — he stands at 6-foot-9, but has the handle of a guard — has led many to call the 2016 Draft a two-player affair. There’s even been talk that, because he’s the superior shooter over presumptive No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, Ingram might be a natural selection for the first pick, what with the way the NBA has become such a perimeter-oriented league that emphasizes shooting and the spacing for drives to the bucket the threat of shooting enables.
But Dunn, a muscular 6-foot-4 guard who overcame consecutive lumbar injuries to begin his college career — he had surgery his sophomore year — only to be named back-to-back Big East Player of the Year and back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year, is slotted to go No. 3 with the Celtics. Some draft “experts” even say he’d be an upgrade over All-Star Isaiah Thomas. He’s ready-made for this stage, and that was made clear long before this summer.
Despite how close in time they could be called by Adam Silver at the Barclays Center on Thursday night, talking to them together highlighted how dissimilar their paths have been to this moment. Dunn talked a lot about being doubted, and overcoming adversity. Ingram, in a whisper that’s almost impossible to hear at times, seemed like your average 18-year-old — still trying on personalities as he tries to figure out his own place in the world beyond basketball.
At first, the only difference between Ingram and a standard college freshman seemed merely physical: incredible length coupled with a smooth jumper, some serious handle for a player his size and a surprising defensive toughness. But as the interview progressed, it became clear that Ingram isn’t any normal teenager. He’s already pretty comfortable in his role as future NBA player.