Brandon Ingram: Evaluation

North Carolina native Brandon Ingram has made remarkable progress over the past 18 months. At one time a stringbean with unfulfilled promise, he's now a stringbean who's routinely turning in big performances.


Introduction


For the most part, scouts and college coaches tend to agree on talent. Coaches sometimes like to hem and haw like they have all the answers, but at the end of the day we and they tend to evaluate players using a similar lens.

But occasionally, a coaches' player like Brandon Ingram comes along and deconstructs the general consensus.

Most prospects I evaluate here tend to blow up on the court and then gain a recruitment to match. Particularly for guards and wings, ability and results usually outpace a player's recruitment.

But Ingram proved atypical. Gawky and strangely ineffective at times as a freshman and sophomore at Kinston (N.C.) High, he nevertheless authored a strong recruitment from the very beginning. Even when he was considered by some just a top 75 national prospect, he held offers from North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, VCU and Minnesota. A lot of local and regional schools, sure, but four ACC offers and a program as far-flung as the Gophers.





He began to show signs during the 2013 summer. By then, he seemed to have stopped growing finally — he's now 6-8, a full 2-3 inches taller than he was as a sophomore — and was adding just a touch of quickness to the arsenal. The improvements were obvious.

His junior season brought more good, albeit not spectacular reviews. He played the role of top-50 national prospect in terms of rankings, and yet Louisville offered in January and Duke began to get seriously involved.

Following Kinston's third consecutive state championship, Ingram hit the road with Stackhouse Elite (namesake Jerry Stackhouse also hails from Kinston) on the Adidas Uprising circuit. Finally, scouts came around to coaches' way of thinking.

He averaged 18 points per game in 15 total contests during the 2014 regular season, along with five rebounds and more than a block per game. Stackhouse Elite went 12-4 and didn't boast elite talent alongside him, so Ingram clearly carried the load.

He didn't play well for a dysfunctional team at the NBPA Top 100 Camp last June, but he rebounded emphatically in July and boosted his recruitment even further. Heading into the fall, his finalists — all of which have offered — included UNC, Duke, N.C. State, Kansas, UCLA and Kentucky.

Ingram went on to play remarkably as a senior. He led Kinston to its fourth consecutive crown and earned an invitation to the McDonald's All-American Game. It was in those McDonald's practices, finally, that he fully cemented himself as a national elite. He now projects as a national top five talent and potentially the best long-term prospect in the 2015 class.

After tussling with in- and out-of-state options, he ultimately announced in favor of Mike Krzyzewski's national champion Duke Blue Devils.

Assets


Ingram isn't just long, his wingspan is extraordinary for a small forward. For one thing, at 6-8, he's already huge for the wing. And he's very long even by 6-8 standards, so opposing wings simply aren't accustomed to a foe presenting such an imposing look physically.

He makes that attribute translate in diverse fashion. Ingram is a very capable finisher around the rim because he can score over his defender 99 percent of the time and even finishes over and around big guys. He doesn't rely on leaping ability because he can lay the ball in at full extension without issue, and when challenged effectively he brings surprising trickery to the table.

Ingram's hand eye coordination is superb

Ingram changes speeds extremely well, and he also changes angles at full, long-legged stride. That enables him to counter whatever a helpside shotblocker has in mind for a swat, and his ultimate shot attempt remains under control. The more shots he takes around the rim, the better.

He's an excellent dribbler and passer at that size who actually can initiate offense. He's comfortable handling right or left, and he can drive in either direction. Ingram already possesses a short turnaround jump shot that should serve him very well in college and beyond.

Meanwhile, his passing is sharp and at times creative. He doesn't rack up huge assist numbers but understands his teammates' positioning and makes slip passes when help arrives.

His three-point shot has become a consistent weapon as well. Although his release is somewhat off his hear, his follow-through is excellent and his shot very soft as it makes contact with the rim.

On defense, Ingram boasts tremendous potential. His long arms enable him to contest jump shooters while simultaneously backing off a step to contain dribble penetration. Arguably more than any other player in the class, he has succeeded at halting the offensive assaults of fellow elite senior Jaylen Brown.


Deficits


A lack of strength stands out prominently. Most high school players are skinny and need time to develop, but Ingram is extremely thin (185 pounds) and may require years of development before he brings himself to par. His lack of weight affects his ability to mix it up inside, and thus he can get pushed around some as well as lose control of his dribble against aggressive pressure.

His athleticism also is good, not great. I have written in the past that I might even prefer Ingram as a stretch forward rather than a wing, due to so-so quickness. These days, however, I think he has played his way into a wing role — and that's how he was recruited — and his leaping ability now is at least average.

Outlook

Ingram previously projected best as a two- or three-year college player, but after this spring that notion has become uncertain. I continue to believe his physique may require a return to campus for his sophomore season, however, and he likely will not approach his best basketball until he's a few years into an NBA career. But assessing him exclusively from a professional perspective, NBA scouts love his length and ball skills and will eye him closely next season.

At Duke, he'll have an opportunity to start due to the departure of Justise Winslow. Though Ingram certainly will face stern competition from Duke's current and incoming wings — Matt Jones, Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard — he's by far the longest of the three and the most unique in terms of creating matchup problems.

One question he must address is whether he's strong enough to defend ACC-level competition, and of course one never knows how quickly a freshman can translate his jump shot to the college level. Duke always features multiple shooters, and if Ingram can count himself among them next year, he should have a great chance to start.

If he spends at least two seasons in Durham, he's the kind of talent who could loom as a contender for all-league or even All-American honors as a sophomore. And again, chances are he'll continue to make improvement relative to his peers for next several years. He may not even resemble his high school or even college self.

The Blue Devils also can take symbolic enjoyment in getting Ingram, as for decades they've been the outsider for N.C. natives attending public schools. To beat UNC for a player from Kinston, in particular, represents a kind of recruiting power that's new even to Coach K.

But while fans can ruminate on the meaning of Ingram to Duke, the player himself will focus his attention to the Cameron Indoor court and at venues beyond.



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