Analytics Art: Are Ingram-Durant Comparisons Valid?

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Duke University standout Brandon Ingram is projected to be the No. 2 (potentially No. 1) overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The slick-shooting 18 year old has drawn comparisons to former No. 2 overall pick Kevin Durant, and not just because of their standing as top prospects entering the draft.

By the eye test, it seems an apt evaluation: both play the small forward position, and both boast a physical build similar to that of a praying mantis — tall, slender, lanky, all limbs.

But is it fair to stack Ingram up against a Kia MVP, four-time scoring champion and five-time All-NBA First Team member?

Below is a comparison of each guy’s stats during their one-and-done seasons in college — Ingram at Duke, Durant at Texas.

It becomes clear rather immediately that Durant, at least statistically, was the superior college player. He averaged more than eight additional points per game compared to Ingram, and he also notched double-digit rebounds.

However, context is key. While Durant did average a whopping 25.8 points per game for Texas, he was the unquestioned go-to scorer. The 2006-07 Longhorns only had two other players post double-digit scoring: A.J. Abrams (15.5 PPG) and D.J. Augustin (14.4 PPG).

On the other hand, Ingram wasn’t even Duke’s leading scorer — that distinction belonged to guard Grayson Allen. The Blue Devils finished the season with five players scoring in double figures. By comparison, Mike Krzyzewski’s crew featured a far more balanced offensive attack that didn’t rely so heavily on one superstar to get the job done. So while Ingram’s scoring output was inferior, there are some factors at play making that outcome understandable.

Moreover, Ingram’s efficiency from the field was impressive for someone his age. He sunk 41 percent of his 3s, launching 5.4 attempts per game.

Ingram wasn’t particularly fond of the right corner, but he splashed triples at rates well above average at the top of the arc and from the left corner during his only collegiate year.

Both Ingram and Durant hoisted about the same number of 3-point shots per game — 5.4 for Ingram, 5.8 for Durant — but it was a larger chunk of Ingram’s offensive repertoire. His 3-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that were 3-pointers on a team possession basis) finished at 40.3 percent. Durant, meanwhile, launched treys 31.4 percent of the time, per Sports Reference — so he didn’t lean on the outside shot nearly as much. That could certainly mean Durant entered the NBA with more polish on the offensive end, but it shouldn’t overshadow Ingram’s own scoring ability.

There’s little question Ingram can score at a high level, much like Durant. His reliable 3-point stroke seems a surefire indicator that he’ll contribute at the next level. Whether he’s the next Durant remains to be seen.

At this juncture, the Durant comparison should be viewed as Ingram’s best-case NBA scenario — what he could become at his absolute ceiling. The good news for either the Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers? Ingram’s floor seems to be remarkably high, too.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

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