n.b. this article was originally intended as part of a bigger breakdown for SheridanHoops that ultimately was never to be completed or published. Thus, I’m sharing it here, on my very own personal space.
The talk of the Draft is, for once, centered around the lack of a consensus 1st overall pick. While this absence, per se, doesn’t amount to anything we haven’t already seen (the 2013 class had no clear-cut favorite once Noel got injured, last year Towns became an official consensus first overall pick only less than one month prior to Draft Day, when Minnesota started hinting at the fact that they were going to select him), this year we the fans are treated to a half-consensus: every major mock draft subscribes to the belief that LSU point forward Ben Simmons and Duke small forward Brandon Ingram will be selected with the first two picks.
When it comes to determining which of the two will go first, however, the dogfight begins.
1 – “Wait, wasn’t it the same thing last year?”
The 2015 NBA Draft, just like this one, has had a largely undisputed front-runner in Jahlil Okafor.
Take a short trip down memory lane to last season and you’ll be reminded of the noblest comparisons and the earnest appreciation the current 76er was able to elicit, above all else the voices that would place him in the same sentence with Tim Duncan.
While the hype was real and palpable, most NBA insiders were already aware of how much of a throwback his game was. Likely all of them were less than thrilled to treat a back-to-the-basket magician with sub-par verticality to protect the rim on defense as a no. 1 option for an NBA team with highbrow ambitions. While the celebrations were being held, the overthrow was already being plotted.
From this point on you can hardly say Okafor could have done more to validate his case, as he lead Duke to the NCAA title with 17.3 ppg, but a new monarch came to reclaim his throne in the form of Karl-Anthony Towns. It wasn’t a complete consensus yet, but everybody started lauding Towns’ immense potential (rightly so, given his NBA rookie year performance) as an in-and-out, two-way versatile big man and it was just a matter of which team was going to get a shot at him.
This year, conversely, the main technical aspect that is turning scouts off is Simmons’ perimeter shooting. While there’s no denying a lack of that fundamental is a liability, a lot of recent first overall picks have moved to the pros while doubts were surrounding their jump shooting prowess: John Wall has cracked the 30% mark from three only in his fourth season, Derrick Rose in his third, Anthony Davis hasn’t even implemented the three-pointer until this year and shot 26% on long twos in his rookie year and Blake Griffin was a 59% free throw shooter for the Oklahoma Sooners.
Each and every one of these 4 guys, while being far from a laser, has immensely improved in the Association, and this notion has resulted in scouts and mock drafts having a hard time writing Simmons off even among team failure and claims that the Australian was lacking interest in college ball.
While Ingram has come up big time as a taller-than-expected 6’9″/6’10” shot maker (he was listed as 6’8″ just a year ago in college recruiting stats), he hasn’t eclipsed Simmons.
The two, differently from last season’s scenario, sit together at the top of the mountain.
So, well, no. It wasn’t the same thing last year.
2 – What you see is (not) what you get (a.k.a. the Perennial Draft Delusion).
Another thing that brings a different taste to this year’s face-off is the animosity between Simmons fans and Ingram fans. Why is there such passion when it comes to a decision none of us will get to make?
The reason why is how much this duel resonates to a fan on two levels.
Level 1 is the Perennial Draft Delusion (from this point on referred to as PDD): the incapability of separating our idea of what a player is destined to become from what a player is actually becoming.
Because we see Ben Simmons having games like this all of a sudden he’s a Magic Johnson/LeBron James/Giannis Antetokounmpo hybrid who will also save the world by night and give you a couple bucks on the sly so you can go out with your date, no need to give them back anytime soon.
He’s a 19-year-old college freshman.
And when he shows little interest in his final college games and seems to care more about making the right pass than about taking over contests he’s still the same, exact 19-year-old college freshman.
He hasn’t changed a bit.
But your perception has, and this is the first symptom of PDD.
To put it in a less serious light, he’s the pretty girl you see everyday on the bus, going to school. You like her face, her smile, her eyes. You picture what her voice will sound like, how she will laugh at your jokes and kiss you on your way home.
Then, one day, you overhear her making small talk with somebody and bam!
Her voice sucks.
Can’t stand the sound of it. Just…no.
Do you think she had a different voice before that fateful day? Obviously not, it was just your idea of what she was like getting shattered by a reality that was there all along, unbeknownst to you.
While high school mixtapes are just as deceiving as college highlights, you can make the counterargument that mixtapes are meant to be.
They’re like the girls that look super cute on Instagram and you just know that what you see is much more likely to be a beautiful photo than a beautiful face.
When you fall for the trick, yeah, you’re a bit mad. But mainly you’re mad at yourself, you know you could and should have seen it coming.
On the other hand, for a number of reasons (age, number of TV programs dedicated, common acceptance, etc.) college seems like a more accurate representation of what a player really is.
It is probably a good representation of what a player is right now, but basic logic tells you it will never be as faithful a portrayal of what a player is going to be in 5-6 years of NBA experience. That projection, however, is what teams are envisioning and betting on during Draft Day.
The hard part is exactly that: recognizing the divide between what makes a player’s core identity and will be part of him throughout his career (likely height, touch, maybe motor, etc.) and what is transitory. Alas, that stealthy and unpredictable divide is part 2 of PDD.
So, while Ben Simmons has fallen off in the eyes of many, Brandon Ingram has emerged, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, just as many fans were digesting the bad news of Ben Simmons finally exposing himself as “not LeBron James”. Rejoice, everybody, we have the new Kevin Durant!
Let’s be real: nobody here is blaming the fans for loving gimmicks. We love ’em too. I love ’em too.
I’m a fan as well, and I can get as delusional as you can never even hope to be (see: White, Royce).
3 – You can’t teach height. But can you teach clutch? (level 2)
While some animosity in the Simmons/Ingram bout is really closer to a Simmons/my-idea-of-what-Simmons-ought-to-be type of thing, there’s a majority of fans, scouts and NBA personnel that is valuing this duel based on how well the two have performed with their backs against the wall. It’s unquestionable that Brandon Ingram has been Duke’s best player until the bitter end, regardless of team results. It’s much more questionable when it comes to Simmons.
Once again, while this looks like an individual matter regarding the two players, the interpretation is up to the single fan/scout/decision maker. Simmons has had the better stats all season long, Ingram has had the better stats when it mattered most. Simmons has been the best college basketball player throughout most of the season, Ingram has been the best player in a basketball program that has progressed further than Simmons’. Everyone agrees that if you’re already capable of stepping up your production at 18 your road to success has one less big obstacle to overcome. The fact that such a hurdle is still in your way at 19 is no indication of how likely you are to power right through it. Looking at the past, some have and some haven’t. LeBron has, and it’s taken him a long time. Kevin Durant has never struggled with that, but ironically his only NBA Finals appearance has resulted in a loss to LeBron.
Whether you think being clutch right now is meaningful to players who will be valued for what they bring to the table almost 10 years from now is not a reflection of what they are. It’s a reflection of what you are as a basketball aficionado.
That’s the aforementioned Mirror Theory: whether you prefer Ingram or Simmons in this battle we’ll probably all forget about at the end of the year and why you prefer one or the other is a reflection of your basketball beliefs and values. Do you believe star players act accordingly since their earliest appearances, that you’re either born with it or doomed to live without it? Go for Ingram. Do you think no star is born without nurturing his attitude and instincts, that no gain comes with no pain? Simmons is your man.