Ingram or Simmons? Pelicans Would Be Lucky to Have Such a Difficult Decision

Published: March 14, 2016

May 17th is a day that every Pelicans fan should have circled on their calander. At halftime of one of the playoff games that the Pelicans won’t be participting in, the draft order will be set. If New Orleans is lucky enough to jump all the way up to #1, they will have a decision to make that will be much harder than most people seem to believe. First of all, they will look at trades – and if someone knocks off their socks, they could go that direction. But put that aside for the purpose of this piece, and let’s assume that they are going to keep the pick. While there are several quality prospects, the internal debate will come down to two young men – LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram. And believe me, it will be a debate.

The most overused phrase amongst sports fans is “no brainer.” While there are no brainers, like who is better – Anthony Davis or Ryan Bowen, anybody who tells you Ingram vs. Simmons is a “no brainer” is just too lazy to have the discussion. Because, believe me, there is a discussion to be had, especially if the Pelicans are lucky enough to get the #1 pick. Simmons was, far and away, the more hyped prospect heading into the season. He was compared to all-time greats like Magic Johnson and Lebron James before he even stepped onto the court for the Tigers, and while he has had an impressive Freshman season, those comparisons have been tempered a bit. Meanwhile, Ingram came into the season with buzz, but has exceeded those expectations, to the point where several teams will seriously consider taking him over Simmons if they got the top pick.

The truth is that, while the two will both be listed as “small forwards” on the game program, they bring much different skills to the table, and it could come down to team fit. Bringing it back to the Pelicans, we all know that the team’s biggest need is on the wing, but what specifically do they need to prioritize? I think it is pretty clear, at ever position, that the top priority for the Pelicans is defense. To be a contender in this league, you need to have a top 5-10 defense, and the Pelicans are miles away from being at that level (currently 25th). The next priority for a team with Anthony Davis, and coached by Alvin Gentry, needs to be shooting. Third on the list is debateable, but if you ask the coaching staff you will probably hear words like, “basketball IQ”, “leadership”, “high-motor”, etc. They will tell you that they want good guys off the court, who are killers on the court that hate to lose. How you measure these things, I can’t pretend to know. But that is what this team needs, and you can be sure that these things will factor into the decision.

So, with that, let’s look at the tale of the tape.


Advantage: Ingram

This one isn’t even close. Ingram is a better deep shooter, a better mid-range shooter. Better on spot ups, and better off the dribble. He is taking over 5 three’s a game and making 41.4% of them. Compare that to Ben Simmons, who only took 3 three-point shots all season. Now, we can have a long debate over LSU’s head coach and how he used Simmons, but that does not apply in this one category. Simmons is simply not a good shooter at this point in his career, though there is nothing in his stroke that leads me to believe that he can’t become at least an average shooter. In fact, I do see an NBA great in Ben Simmons – Scottie Pippen.

You know how many three’s Pippen made in his rookie season? Four. He shot 17% that year, but by the time he hit his prime, he was an above average shooter for his time, and a guy that defenders could not disregard. And that is half the battle with shooters – Anthony Davis needs guys around him that teams have to respect, and make them pay when they double him. Ben Simmons is not close to being there yet, and if Pippen’s career trajectory gives us a realistic expectation, he won’t get there for 4-5 years. Ingram, meanwhile, looks more like Kevin Durant coming out of Texas. Durant took about the same number of three’s per game and hit them at a similar rate. And although KD struggled his first year, he was a legitimate threat by year 2, and a darn right killer behind the arc as he filled out in his mid-20’s.

This one is Ingram in a landslid, both immediately, and projecting forward. The best Simmons can hope to be, in all likelihood, is average – in a league where shooting is more valuable than ever.


Advantage: Push

This one is tough, because Simmons will come into the league as the superior defender, but Ingram’s ceiling is higher. When you look at Ingram’s height, wingspan, and hand size, he is a Kawhi Leonard clone. He is a freak in that way, and if he puts in the time, he can be an all-world defender. But he is also rail thin right now, and he will get pushed around for the next 2-3 years – much like AD did early on. He also doesn’t have the defensive IQ that Simmons currently has, both on and off the ball. Now, make no mistake, Simmons is long too and and is every bit as athletic, but his athleticism is more explosive and less fast-twitch than Ingram.

Simmons will have the advantage of being able to play the 4 for stretches, because he is big enough to defend in the post for a few minutes per game. This also gives the team he plays for the ability to switch more without worrying about Simmons being abused down low and/or on the glass. Ingram will likely never be able to defend the “power” small forwards like Lebron or Melo, and he is a guy that will have to exclusively play on the wing. But he also will likely have an easier time defending point guards on switches. If they both reach their defensive ceiling, Ingram will defend 1-3 and Simmons could guard 2-4. It just comes down to your flavor of ice cream and current needs.


Advantage: Simmons

Ben Simmons basketball IQ could not be masked, even by horrible coaching. The kid plays like a 10 year NBA vet, and he shows the maturity you want from an elite prospect. Despite a disappointing season at LSU, he never threw anybody else under the bus – and believe me, that would have been VERY easy to do. Ingram, meanwhile, seems to be a little bit more up and down, like most 18 year olds. It’s not that Ingram is immature, it’s just that Simmons seems ultra mature. And while Ingram makes his team better, he doesn’t necessarily make his teammates better. Not yet, at least.

What Ingram does offer, however, is a killer instinct that Simmons doesn’t quite have just yet. I have watched several of his games, but none impressed me more than his 7 for 21 performance against UNC. It impressed me because he was having a terrible game on his rival’s home court, and it would have been easy for a Freshman in a game of that magnitude to hide and let somebody else take the big shots down the stretch. Bit not Brandon Ingram. Down by six with 6 minutes to play, Ingram wanted the ball, taking 4 of the 5 next shots. The one he didn’t take was a three-pointer than finally gave Duke the lead. A three that was set up by Brandon Ingram after he sucked in the defense and kicked it out.

Ingram shows that he can be that alpha dog that we are still not sure if AD wants to be. Ben Simmons, meanwhile, seems more like a second banana. I’ve have watched numerous games and have never once seen even a glimpse of what I saw in Chris Paul, who is the ultimate competitor. If the Pelicans can believe that AD can be what Kobe became, what Chris Paul is, what Draymond Green always was, then Ben Simmons could be the ultimate companion. He can be the Pippen to Anthony Davis’s MJ. But, if AD just doesn’t have that in him, then maybe you go and grab Ingram, because he has shown in big games that he might have that in him.


If anybody tells you that it is a “no brainer,” just walk away from the conversation, because it isn’t worth your time. The actual decision makers in front offices will have dozens and dozens of hours vigorously debating the two, and for good reason. Simmons is the type of player that comes along once every 5 or 10 years, but he is also a guy who is not a good shooter, and that is far more important than it has ever been in today’s NBA. He also doesn’t show that killer instinct and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Not yet, at least.  There is no doubt that he will always impact a game, because of everything he can do, but it is not a given that he can take over a game – especially late.

Ingram, meanwhile, likely won’t stuff the stat sheet the way that Simmons will, but he could develop into a 25 point per game scorer who will want the ball in big moments, and can defend the best wings in the world on the other end. The difference between the two is that Ingram’s ceiling will only be reached with the right coaching and the right attitude to that coaching. Simmons, in some ways, is a coach. He is the Peytton Manning of this class, in that he will figure it out on his own, and become a coach on the floor that any staff will just trust to make the right decisions.

Ingram will come into the league more ready on the offensive end, while Simmons will have the advantage on the defensive end. But make no mistake, each guy has incredible ceilings on both sides of the floor. The fact that one guy went to LSU (and barely went to class) for a couple of months should not be a factor when making this decision. Simmons is from Australia, and Ingram is from North Carolina. Neither is a local boy, so let’s just drop that (not that it should be a factor, ever).

What you want to do is figure out which guy would be best next to Anthony Davis, and perhaps Jrue Holiday as well. Honestly, so much of that comes down to who you expect Anthony Davis to be in 2-3 years. It’s hard to argue that he is an alpha dog right now, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t become one. Also, to be frank, your best player does not need to be the alpha dog – and for evidence of that, just look to Golden State. Maybe AD needs a killer, with big cajones next to him. And if he does, the small one-year sample size says that Ingram is more likely to be that guy. But if AD has learned from this horrible season, and is willing to be “that guy” moving forward, Simmons might be the perfect compliment.

It’s a tough choice, but man, what a great problem to have.

Others to Watch in the Tournament

  • For the record, I think the Pels trade the pick if they end up at #3, and like I said before, it will be Hield or Valentine if they land 6-8 (which is the most likely outcome of the lottery). Both Valentine and Hield are playing for #2 seeds, so they should get a few games to impress. Watch them closely, because as of today I would say it’s at least a 50% chance that one of them are Pelicans in June. The guys below would be 2nd round targets, where the Pelicans are likely to have two picks in the 30s.
  • Taurean Prince of Baylor would be a dream second round pick, or perhaps a late first if they can trade up. He is a seasoned senior who can score and defend on the wing. He runs hot and cold behind the arc, but the effort is always there.
  • Tyler Ulis of Kentucky would be the perfect second unit spark plug for an Alvin Gentry offense. If he was 6’1″, he would be a top 10 pick, but because he is 5’9″, he might fall to round 2 if he comes out. And if he does, the Pels should pounce
  • In an ultra tough ACC, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon was the Conference POY. He is a 3-and-D shooting guard who competes like a dog every minute he is on the court. He has a bit of a hitch in his shot, and he isn’t ultra explosive, but I could see a Wesley Matthews type career.
  • Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin) has an NBA ready body and game right now. His jumper needs work, as he brings his elbow in when he shoots, but he is the type of defender the Pelicans need.
  • Gary Payton II (Oregon State) is the son of the former Sonics great, but he has a different game than his dad. He isn’t nearly the defender (who is?), but he is all over the court and fills the stat sheet because of his tenacity. To me, he is a poor man’s Rondo.
  • This Pelicans team needs some athletes on the wings, and Wayne Selden (Kansas) would give them that. He is a man physically, and I believe he can become an explosive bench scorer for the right team if given the chance.
  • For my money, Monte Morris (Iowa State) has been the best pure point guard in the NCAA for two years now. Again, the goal in round two should be to get a rotation player who might be able to be more in a few years. Morris fits that to a T.




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