2017 NBA Rookie Ladder: Is Brandon Ingram A Future Star?

We’re a month into the NBA season, and the top rookies, including Brandon Ingram, are trying to make cases for future stardom in the league.

Nov 29, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Brown (21) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a month into the season and a few NBA rookies are starting to actually prove themselves. One of them happens to be the Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram.

His game hasn’t come on the way some expected it to right out of the draft. He hasn’t been a scoring machine, nor has he earned a starting spot.

But being a featured cog off the bench along with Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson has still given him enough opportunities to work with.

He’s continued to get minutes, but the skills he’s working on are unexpected. Well, at least for the casual fan who only heard about his shooting ability pre-draft.

The question is though, how does he stack up against his peers in the rookie class? Does he have as much star potential as the other top prospects? Does he truly have any at all?

Nov 20, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) drives against New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 104-94. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

10. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

He’s by no means the flashiest guy on the New York Knicks. What Willy Hernangomez does do, however, are the little things that provide quality depth.

Hernangomez gets steady playing time off the Knicks bench, averaging 13.5 minutes per game on the year.

Let’s get something out of the way here though. It’s going to take him time to develop any sort of actual post game or defensive awareness.

He doesn’t block a ton of shots or back people down and finish with a few fancy moves on the block. But he’s a solid option off the bench because he takes advantage of easy opportunities.

Hernangomez is a good pick-and-roll option for the second unit. When he catches the ball down low he’s able to swing around and finish. There’s no problem with his athleticism, it’s his instincts that are still raw.

His 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game aren’t life-changing.

What is telling though is his 15.41 PER that’s above the league average of 15. It’s harder for big men to adjust to the NBA because of the speed of the game. Hernangomez’s transition has gone well, so that’s a huge plus for New York.

As long as he’s able to continue to do the small things that matter, he’ll get minutes. The Knicks are thin on the bench, so any minutes he can give them is huge.

Nov 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) smiles after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

9. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

I had Pascal Siakam higher in the ladder in last week’s edition. Unfortunately he hasn’t done much lately for the Toronto Raptors to justify his spot.

He had a solid game against the Philadelphia 76ers Monday night in which he shot 4-of-6 from the floor on his way to 11 points for the game. Siakam only grabbed two rebounds in that contest, though.

Getting moved off the block when rebounding is supposed to be one of your key skills doesn’t say a lot. He’s continued to score off easy looks in the lane and has converted the mid-range jumper.

I’m just not sure his ceiling can go any higher if he doesn’t continuously assert himself on the boards.

The book on him is that he’s a hustle forward who rebounds and provides energy. Rebounding is the biggest part of that description, so seeing those numbers down isn’t appealing.

Defensively he got into a lot of foul trouble last Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Five fouls limited his time on the court, which means he overwhelmingly lost the physical battle against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Now Siakam can’t be expected to consistently put everything together yet. He’s still just a rookie. But he has to do the things he’s been known for well to keep his minutes or else Patrick Patterson could end up taking them down the stretch.

Nov 25, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison (5) drives against Miami Heat forward Luke Babbitt (5) in the second quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

8. Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies

Mike Conley’s status has been made official, as he’ll be out for up to two months due to injury.

This is the perfect time for one of the Memphis Grizzlies‘ rookie point guards to step up and show worth.

Andrew Harrison has gotten the call early on in the season rather than Wade Baldwin.

Before Conley went down, the two were actually able to share the floor for extended stretches. Harrison and Conley both have the ability to shoot the three, so no floor spacing has to be sacrificed in a sense.

Harrison has, however, been in a huge shooting slump. Free throws have been his saving grace (80.9 percent from the line). His 30.6 field goal percentage is putrid and he’s been even worse on long balls at 27.5 percent.

There’s nothing wrong with his mechanics and he’s knocked down a few clutch shots for the Grizzlies already. But he’s wildly inconsistent and is at his absolute best streaky.

With that being said he’s an underrated passer, rebounder and defender at the guard spot. He also doesn’t turn the ball over a ton, which is something that Memphis needs desperately.

The team still struggles to score at times so losing opportunities to turnovers isn’t something that’s needed.

If Harrison can step into a bigger role and shoot better, he can justify a continued spot in the rotation once Conley’s back. He does all the other things you’d want a rookie guard to do, so his ceiling both this year and beyond is still high enough.

Nov 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) chases a loose ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

7. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

Count myself along with countless others who are a little surprised by Marquese Chriss so early on.

It’s not that he didn’t have any translatable athletic talents or skills coming out of the draft. But what he’s shown in terms of knowing how to play the game is a pleasant revalation for the Phoenix Suns.

Does he have the greatest PER? No, in fact he’s in the lower fourth of the league by that metric (8.15). Advanced statistics aside though, he’s done something some thought he didn’t do in college.

He’s played hard for the Suns when he’s gotten minutes.

The biggest knock on him at Washington was his hustle on both ends of the floor. Did he want to rebound and play defense? The answer seemed like no, similar to Andre Drummond when he was at Connecticut.

Everyone knew Drummond had the ability of a top NBA center down the line. But his effort level was seriously questioned, so no one truly knew if he would reach his potential early on.

Chriss has done well to at least dispel those notions and has found ways to contribute. He has a legitimate jump shot, and he’s a force running the floor as a big man.

Yes he’s still very raw on defense. Foul trouble along with inexperience have been the two biggest keys holding him back from more minutes. But offensively he’s not far away from being a consistent presence in the scoring column.

Nov 27, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard D.J. Augustin (14) drives past Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) in the second half at Amway Center. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

6. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Malcolm Brogdon is in a similar boat with most of his rookie peers in that he’s not “exciting”.

He’s not reaching up and grabbing rebounds with ferocity, or dunking the ball in fashion in transition every trip down the floor. Brogdon’s strength is that he’s just a solid basketball player.

His defensive instincts are advanced for a rookie, both guarding his own man and helping others. He can handle the ball on offense and create his own shot going to the basket.

And while he doesn’t have a pull-up game yet from range, Brogdon can still knock down outside looks off the catch.

These are translatable skills to the next level, things that scouts look for in prospects coming out of college. Players aren’t expected to be stars right away, but they have to show qualitites that can instantly impact to warrant a draft pick.

Does he have the athletic ability to affect the game in more ways than that? Yes, he’s no joke as an athlete. But he doesn’t rely on it to make his mark on the game, which will mean a lot later in his career.

The Milwaukee Bucks got a solid wing out of Brogdon, and taking his offensive game off the dribble to another level is the clear next step.

Nov 26, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Domantas Sabonis (3) fouls Detroit Pistons center Aron Baynes (12) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

5. Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City Thunder

There are a few parts of Domantas Sabonis’ game that concern others. He’s a big man, yet he rarely forces contact and gets to the line. He’s not a decent shot blocker or rebounder for his position.

But man can he put the ball in the hoop when given a chance.

The Rookie of the Year Award has been for years an offensive award, with scoring totals leading the charge for voters.

If Sabonis got more looks in games for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’d have a real shot at challenging Joel Embiid for the rookie scoring title.

His touch both inside and out is that good, as he can finish all over the floor.

He’s converted on looks around the basket, in the mid-range and even from the 3-point line. His 44.9 percentage from deep might be the most surprising aspect of his game so far.

Sabonis’ offensive numbers are enough to keep him in a top spot in these rankings. Few players at his age have ever had the foot work and touch from multiple spots on the floor.

But if he’s never able to handle the physicality of the professional game and rebound and defend, then his upside seriously decreases.

Nov 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) controls the ball against Toronto Raptors in the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

4. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Dario Saric has slipped a little in these rankings, but that’s not because he can’t play. A few others have passed him because of their recent showings on the floor.

He’s still a great option off the bench for the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to his playmaking and shooting abilities.

Saric scores at a decent clip at 9.1 points per game with a slash line of .371/.379/.692. While he hasn’t finished well from the field inside the arc, he’s been effective enough at the line and from distance.

Finding ways to score and remaining valuable remains the most important aspect of any player’s rookie year. He’s continued to score in any way that he can and a poor offensive team like the 76ers needs every point possible.

His rebounding totals could be better for a power forward, but he plays hard. His limitations athleticially could cap his ceiling in multiple areas, including on the boards.

For now he’s a good part of Philly’s rebuilding process. Saric has a shot as a Rookie of the Year candidate barring any injuries to other contenders.

Nov 23, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) grabs a high pass in the second quarter against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

3. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Jamal Murray’s caught fire of late and now he has some questioning whether he should’ve been the first guard off the board.

Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield have both struggled more than expected. While Murray got off to a slow start in the summer, he’s beginning to find his rhythm as a trusted scoring option.

Murray just completed a stretch of 20-plus points in three straight games, and three of his last five overall. He shot well from the field overall in those contests. Murray converted from deep, hit his free throws and found ways to finish inside.

Being able to score from all three levels of the floor consistently was a knack on him in college. He coudl always shoot the lights out, but could he actually finish well enough to keep minutes?

His mid-range percentages of 35 percent and below from farther than three feet from the basket per Basketball-Reference doesn’t excite me. But on shots right at the rim he’s hit on 53.3 percent of his looks.

The game off the dribble will come in time, as he showed the touch from there in college. He has a decent handle to create separation, it’ll just take some work and repetition to get that part of his game down.

Murray’s scoring ability makes him a valuable player for the Denver Nuggets indeed. Is he a better option to start next to Emmanuel Mudiay in the future? He just might be.

Nov 29, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Brown (21) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Is Brandon Ingram a future star for the Los Angeles Lakers?

Well he certainly has the talent level as a scorer. He showed in college he can knock down shots from all over the floor, as well as draw contact inside to get to the free throw line.

His shooting slash line of .356/.286/.755 doesn’t do much for those looking for offensive dominance from him. Opportunities are there for him to hit shots, some just don’t go in. What he has done well is defend his position and handle the ball at times in a point forward-like role.

Luke Walton is asking him to do different things this year to evolve his game. Making Ingram a well-rounded contributor across the board is a priority for Walton, as he’s trying to bring the Golden State Warriors model of success to Los Angeles.

That blueprint revolves around long, versatile athletes who can shoot and pass to keep the ball moving on offense.

The Lakers have certainly played at a faster pace this season (fourth in pace at 99.7), so his effect on the team isn’t a mirage.

Teaching Ingram how to move the ball and choose his spots more carefully is key to this system. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are doing those things effectively, so Ingram is the next to contribute in other areas other than scoring.

What Walton has asked him to do, he’s done. Those things don’t necessarily show up in the box score, but they matter. When Ingram is in the game, the ball keeps moving.

The main problem is with the defense, as the Lakers are one of the worst defensive teams in the league (26th in defensive rating at 109.8). While he does a good job of guarding his own man, his help instincts aren’t where they should be.

Without a dominant rim protector, the Lakers need to switch and remain active in man-to-man. Ingram gets lost at times switching off screens and helping his teammates.

But he hustles and plays with effort, so those things should come in time. He’s a smart player who has developed rather quickly since his college days at Duke.

His length, shooting touch and athletic abilities will carry him for years to come.

As long as he continues to work on the defensive end, he’ll reach his ceiling as a star player.

Nov 27, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) scores past Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) and guard J.R. Smith (5) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid is still the clear front-runner for NBA Rookie of the Year.

I’m willing to bet money it’ll stay that way for the remainder of the year considering the fact he’s getting better week in and week out.

He puts major points on the board in limited minutes. He rebounds well and blocks shots at alarming rates.

His per game averages of 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game are good enough to contend for an All-Star selection.

But what will happen when he gets legitimate minutes on the floor? How high will his numbers balloon when he leaves the now 28 minutes per game restriction behind?

Few rookies have ever had the numbers and play to be in the All-Star conversation. So the fact that he’s the only rookie even close to that says it all.

He should win the award fairly handily barring any serious injuries (fingers crossed for a healthy year).

Embiid shoots from 3-point range, hits his free throws and runs the floor like a guard. Oh by the way, he’s 7’2″ with the size of a true center.

There’s no ceiling for Embiid. His physical tools, basketball skill and IQ can carry him as far as he wants to go.

We’re all patiently waiting for his minutes restriction to vanish. Could he average close to 30 points per game as a rookie? Hopefully we’ll find out soon enough.

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