Ben Simmons is the better player but Brandon Ingram is willing to shoot
The biggest difference between the two young players is that Brandon Ingram can shoot the ball and Ben Simmons will not.
Leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft, the 76ers had the No. 1 overall pick and were faced with a choice: Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram.
Mock drafts, league executives, media members, and fans seemed pretty much split.
The problem, which often happens when comparing players, is that they aren't the same type of player. So it came down to who the Sixers thought would be a better fit. History was written and Simmons became a 76er.
But it's worth looking at how it's panned out since then.
After one year at LSU, Simmons missed his first season in the NBA because of a fractured right foot. But Simmons used his time wisely. He continued to work his body and studied the game. He learned the flow of the NBA before ever stepping onto the court.
Now after a year on the sidelines, with 23 games in the bag, Simmons is a stat machine. He has three triple-doubles, 10 double-doubles, and just one game where he didn't score in double-figures. He is consistently compared to LeBron James and Magic Johnson, and often likened to a mix between the two greats.
Simmons is a willing passer with speed and ball-handling ability that is not often seen from a guy who stands at 6-foot-10. With that kind of height rebounds come easy, and he's nearly unstoppable in open court with his unique speed.
Ingram showed defensive versatility in his lone year at Duke, and he was a top scorer who could hit from deep. Taken No. 2 overall by the Lakers, Ingram, like Simmons, has length and speed that are incredibly attractive qualities. He wasn't the dynamic passer or ball handler that Simmons was, but his ability to stretch the floor because of his efficiency from three-point range made up for what was lacking elsewhere.
There were of course question marks surrounding both players.
Simmons is not a shooter and wasn't known for his defensive ability. There were also concerns about his attitude.
Ingram's 7'3″ wingspan was surrounded by a rail thin frame that needed weight in order to handle NBA-style contact.
Many of the concerns about both players have been squashed.
Simmons has not had any problems or complaints from teammates or coaches about his attitude. Perhaps most shockingly, Simmons has shown that he can not only play defense but that his ceiling on the defensive end is higher than anyone could have imagined.
Ingram has bulked up and proved that he can handle the physicality of the NBA.
But the most glaring difference between the two players is that Ingram can shoot. It's not that Simmons can't shoot, it's that he won't.
"The story is he grew a few inches, he's put on a few pounds, and he's playing with a great deal of confidence," Sixers coach Brett Brown said after the Ingram hit a last-second three to lead the Lakers past the Sixers, 107-104, Thursday night. "He's going to be a hell of a player."
Simmons can get to the rim with unblinking ease and he's a dominant finisher when he is focused. But if he's a mid-range jumper away from the basket, odds are he won't take the shot. If he's any farther than that, he won't even look at the basket no matter how incredibly wide open he is.
This is a problem for the Sixers.
Even with the shooting ability of Robert Covington and the addition of JJ Redick, teams have quickly learned that they don't need to guard Simmons at any kind of range. Defenses sag so far off of Simmons that the paint is clogged and it's leading to one of the Sixers biggest issues — Joel Embiid getting the ball on the perimeter.
Ingram's shooting percentage has taken a dip since he's moved from college to the professional ranks. He was hitting at just above 41 percent from deep at Duke. In his young NBA career, Ingram is shooting just above 30 percent from deep.
Even though Simmons has played just 23 NBA games, there's not really an argument anymore about who the better players is. Simmons looks like he can be one of the league's greats. He is a triple-double threat who still has untapped potential. With averages of 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game, it seems like Simmons has just scratched the surface.
On the other hand, Ingram's slow-burn growth has been a surprise. After averaging just 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in his rookie year, he's averaging 16.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists this season. And, when he hits a game-winning three with 0.8 seconds left, it's hard not to look at Simmons and wish he would shoot the ball.