After a slow start, Duke freshman Brandon Ingram is finally starting to cook.
Through the first seven games, the highly anticipated freshman posted an underwhelming 10.9 points per contest on 39 percent shooting. When the calendar turned to December, the 6’9″ forward unwrapped a more aggressive scoring arsenal and started to look the part of an elite NBA prospect.
Ingram shook off the up-and-down start to unleash 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting against Indiana, followed by 23 points on 8-of-15 against Buffalo. He’s no longer a wavering member of Mike Krzyzewski’s attack, but rather a focal point.
Brandon Ingram's last two games for Duke: 23.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 22-30 from the field, 6-10 from 3-point range. Starting to emerge.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 6, 2015
His ability to handle the rock, rain jumpers in spades and stretch over opponents on drives makes him an attractive commodity at the next level. In a sport where length and scoring versatility have become commonplace among wings and combo forwards, Ingram still manages to stand out.
Even by today’s standards, he’s extra long, standing 6’9.5″ in shoes while boasting a wiry 7’3″ wingspan and 9’1.5″ standing reach. Ingram also has the potential to be extra versatile, given his ability to put the ball on the deck and finish fluidly from a variety of spots on the floor.
He attacks the rim by using his agility and handles to maneuver around defenders with either hand and extend to finish. While Ingram isn’t even close to being strong enough to fight through foes in traffic, he still has enough tools to score in most scenarios.
Against Buffalo, he used a quick first step to get past the first challenger. Then unfurled his never-ending arm to score past the second.
Later in the same game, he simply left his man in the dust with a sharp crossover:
While Ingram’s budding slashing skills are impressive, he’s more polished as a jump-shooter at this stage.
After a rocky start from the college arc, he’s 6-of-10 from three-land in his last two games and looks dialed-in lately. Ingram’s shooting mechanics aren’t perfect, but it’s a quick, streamlined delivery. SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell noted the value of his natural ability and size:
Ingram isn’t simply a 6’9 player who can shoot — he’s a shooter who happens to be 6’9. He gets his shot off quickly and has a high release point that no opposing college wing is blocking. When he’s feeling it, the ball barely touches the net.
The lanky freshman has also displayed a nice mid-range game as well. Ingram can intermittently create 12-to-15-foot jumpers off the bounce and also work off the ball as a catch-and-shoot threat. More than two-thirds of his field-goal attempts are two-point jumpers, and he’s sinking those at a 47 percent rate, according to Hoop-math.com.
Last week against Indiana, he exhibited both mid-range and long-range prowess. He displayed the kind of scoring rhythm that quickly endears NBA decision-makers.
Ingram’s offense isn’t limited to bucket-getting, however. He has good court awareness and hits the open man when defenses shift toward him. Although he hasn’t dished more than three assists in any game yet this season, it’s clear that he has a great feel for the game and will be able to share the ball in the NBA. Brandon Jefferson of NBADraft.net explains:
Due to his size and length he’s able to see over the defense to distribute the ball. (Ingram) delivers the ball on target to open teammates…Has a high basketball IQ, good attention to detail…
Ingram’s shortcomings on the offensive end are mostly due to his slight frame.
It’s hard to overstate how lanky he his. Ingram is 195 pounds and looks like he could barely wrestle a plate of spaghetti to the ground. Right now, he can’t bruise his way to the hoop or drive through the trees to score. Consequently, he sporadically struggles to get all the way to the rim when he’s in attack mode.
Fortunately, that kind of problem will likely be addressed in the weight room and kitchen. Even if he doesn’t pack on a ton of mass, he’ll get stronger and more powerful as his body matures.
Ingram needs the muscle gain on defense as well because he struggles to maintain position in the paint and fight through screens. However, the more fundamentally glaring defensive issues are his hot-and-cold motor, inconsistent awareness and mediocre footwork.
Let’s be clear; Ingram has tremendous defensive potential, and he’s made some sweet plays when he’s locked in. He already tallied four multi-steal games and had four blocks against Buffalo. If he figures things out over the next couple of years, he could be a versatile stopper.
But he’s been caught out of position away from the ball several times and beaten off the dribble due to poor footwork. Watch him get roasted by Jamal Murray because he doesn’t stay low and keep his feet apart:
Ingram has also gotten burned by backdoor cutters a couple of times. Those types of miscues have been due to inconsistent alertness rather than inconsistent effort.
While he obviously has room to improve on both ends of the floor, the positives still heavily outweigh the negatives, especially from a long-term outlook.
Ingram could step into and NBA offense and serve as a dangerous secondary scorer next year. But that’s not why he’ll be drafted in the top-five, perhaps even challenging for the top spot.
He’s viewed as a top-shelf asset because he could eventually blossom into a go-to offensive weapon, one who could score 18-24 points while supplying rangy defense against multiple positions. Ingram still has a long way to go to reach that level, but his last couple of games have offered tantalizing glimpses of that superstar ceiling.