Harrison Ingram: Revenge of the Returner
After two seasons of not meeting his pre-college expectations, UNC's Harrison Ingram is back with a vengeance!
Revenge of the Returner
Every scout has their blind spots. I myself have several. I have a propensity to fall for a shot creator with great size and feel. If they are 6’5” or taller and play with a pace unto themself, it won’t take long for me to have them in the lottery range. I’m also a big sucker for players that I classify as utility forwards—frontcourt players who are very good defenders and can do some quirky thing on offense. Oftentimes, I may overlook a sub-35% shooting percentage from deep if they are just all-around dogs at everything else.
On the other side of things, I can pigeonhole a player relatively easily. If they are a guard who is 6’3” and under, they have to do some incredible things for me to have them in a draftable range. That same grace I will give a utility forward for underwhelming distance shooting is not the same measure I give to guards of a smaller stature. I’m less enthused about players who have supreme athleticism but would have a lack of feel based on my perception.
Another area I can be susceptible to is becoming married to (for lack of a better word) my initial scout on a returning player. If I believe in a prospect coming into their freshman season but they don’t perform, I have a tendency to let that underwhelming season weigh heavily on their draft stock. That player will have to do incredible things to change my perception of them—to make me a believer in their path to the NBA.
Of course, each time I make a mistake on a player based on a preference, I try to learn from it. From having Marcus Sasser 32nd on my board last season due to anticipated defensive limitations, to having Keegan Murray 11th on my board due to age and doubt about his role in the NBA, each mistake I make is an opportunity for me to grow as a scout and add to my toolkit. One mistake I am getting ahead of now is changing how I feel about a particular returning player. I am actively fighting a bias I have with a player who I strongly believed in as a freshman, but has struggled to hit on his potential for the past two seasons.
That player is Harrison Ingram.
Coming out of high school, Ingram was a consensus Top 30 recruit. According to Sports Reference’s 2021 RSCI ranking, Harrison was the 16th-best prospect in his class. This ranking put him above current NBA players like Max Christie, AJ Griffin, Bryce McGowens, Malaki Branham, Kobe Bufkin, Jordan Hawkins, Brandin Podziemski, and Jeremy Sochan. These rankings aren’t always an accurate depiction of a player’s NBA projections, being positioned above this many pros was a strong indication of potential.
What baked heavily into his ranking was a perfect intersection of size, strength, and feel wrapped in a 6’7”, 235-pound package. His recruitment to Stanford saw the former McDonald’s All-American elect to be a Cardinal over other universities like Tennessee, Florida, Texas Tech, Purdue, Marquette, Florida State, Louisville, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Houston, UCLA, Baylor, Texas, and Kansas—among several others. Opting to play for Stanford, though, didn’t really work to the extent many had expected.
While Harrison put up over ten points, close to seven rebounds, and three assists per game, his efficiency and shot selection weren’t what scouts wanted to see from him. He shot under 39% from the floor on about ten attempts per game in year one for the Cards. The shot indications weren’t great. The mechanics were a bit rigid. For you free throw truthers, he shot a smidge over 66% from the line—which is currently the best he’s shot from there.
The second year wasn’t much better, as he played four fewer minutes per game as a sophomore. He put up the exact same points per game, and he upped his assist numbers as well, but his rebounding and defensive counting numbers took a hit. The efficiency took a step forward, but to call it a “jump” would be a stretch. He shot 40.8% from the floor and 31.9% from deep. After back-to-back underwhelming seasons, Ingram’s draft stock had taken a major blow in comparison to the optimism he had before he was a Cardinal. The decision to transfer out made a ton of sense, but the move had to be the right one.
North Carolina would ultimately be the destination school for Harrison, and it seemed like a decent enough fit at the time. The ‘Heels were coming off of losing Pete Nance and Leaky Black in the frontcourt, and Harrison seemed to be a logical piece to slide in. With Armando Bacot and RJ Davis returning to the fold, UNC brought Ingram in to help in a big way. According to The Daily Tarheel, head coach, Hubert Davis, said as much:
“We don’t want you. We need you.”
It’s one thing to say all of the right things to bring a player onto your team, but it is another thing to come through on them. Coach Davis has done just that—and it has been a perfect marriage for all parties.
Minutes Percentage - 78.2
BPM - 9.8
Offensive Rating - 124.6
Usage Percentage - 20.2
Effective Field Goal Percentage - 60.3
True Shooting Percentage - 61.2
Offensive Rebounding Percentage - 7.0
Defensive Rebounding Percentage - 17.0
Assist Percentage - 13.2
Turnover Percentage - 12.3
Assist:Turnover - 1.6
Block Percentage - 1.5
Steals Percentage - 2.2
Free Throw Rate - 37.0
Dunks - 2
Two Point Percentage - 50.0 (20/40)
Three Point Percentage - 48.5 (16/33)
It’s almost hilarious to see some of the numbers that Ingram is putting up this season. While playing more minutes for North Carolina—and quietly having a slightly smaller usage percentage—he is wildly improved in many of the listed categories above. Even the ones he did well in. As I usually do, I wanted to see how his numbers compare to other successful hoopers who made the leap to the league. Look who pops up under the following query:
Minutes Percentage - At least 78
BPM - At least 9
Offensive Rating - At least 124
Usage Percentage - At least 20
Effective Field Goal Percentage - At least 60
Three Point Percentage - At least 48
This is an incredible crop of players to be in company with. What stands out to me about this group of players is how intelligent they all were. Their collective feel for the game saw nine of these ten players be selected in their respective classes, with Jake Stephens as the lone undrafted name. Stephens is currently in the G League, however, and will likely see some time in the NBA if I had to bet on it. Like these players, Ingram has a natural feel for the game and is highly intelligent. I like his chances.
I ran another query about what Ingram is doing this season that I want to dive in with you all as well, which leads to a completely different type of player:
Offensive Rebounding Percentage - At least 7
Defensive Rebounding Percentage - At least 17
Block Percentage - At least 1.5
Steals Percentage - At least 2
Free Throw Rate - At least 37
Three Point Percentage - At least 40
Similar to the first group, this list consists of players who have a common denominator: physicality. Each of these players—sans Cameron Jackson—all saw some time in the league. These players saw success, and it largely revolved around their strength. While Harrison wouldn’t be classified as the biggest player within this collection of talent, at 6’7”/235, he is not a player who is slight of frame.
When looking at these two groups of players, it could be broken down into to traits: feel and strength. Those two traits have been exemplified in Ingram’s play this season.
During his freshman season at Stanford, Harrison Ingram ranked in the 30th percentile (Below Average) on overall offense, and in the 52nd percentile (Good) in total defense. When he completed his sophomore campaign with the team, he was in the 29th percentile (Below Average) in overall offense, and in the 54th percentile (Good) on defense. These broad strokes encapsulated the perception he had coming up through the last two scouting cycles. The decision to transfer out of Stanford seemed to be the logical move.
It is within his offensive game that Ingram seems to have reinvigorated his draft stock since becoming a Tarheel. His ranking in overall offense has skyrocketed to the 84th percentile (Excellent) since playing under Coach Davis. Within the halfcourt, Harrison ranks within the 80th percentile (Very Good). While operating in transition, he grades out within the 70th percentile (Very Good). The strides made within his offense have been absurd.
The ability to make shots from deep hadn’t been a part of Ingram’s in his first two seasons, but the transformation in his mechanics and efficiency has seemingly come out of nowhere. Synergy ranks Harrison in the 93rd percentile (Excellent) on his jumpers. He is in the 86th percentile (Excellent) on catch-and-shoot plays. He is in the 82nd percentile (Very Good) when guarded, and in the 83rd percentile (Excellent) when left open. When looking at these numbers compared to his subpar Stanford stats, one can’t help but wonder what has led to this drastic improvement.
In the aforementioned article from The Daily Tarheel, we get an answer:
“Ingram is ready to demonstrate some new additions to his game as well. He said he has been working on his athleticism, losing 18 pounds from last season—he won’t share his exact weight now, but promised it’s ‘down there.’ And after working out with Brandon Payne—Stephen Curry’s trainer—he noted his shooting ‘has gotten way, way better.’
Last season, Harrison Ingram shot 34% on catch and shoot threes on 70 total attempts. He’s already at 31 threes attempted, converting on 48.4% of his catch-and-shoot threes. Working with Brandon Payne is paying dividends. Take a look at his shot from last season:
I specifically chose a made three-point attempt here to show much of a change Ingram has made in his mechanics. This clip from last season shows a more narrow based, a bit of a chicken wing on his support arm, a longer load time, and a push motion from his thumbs. The shot renovation has taken the shot from “fixer” to “fabulous” for Ingram.
The shot mechanics have improved so much, that Harrison has weaponized the shot in such a way to where he is a threat beyond just catching and shooting. In this clip against Tennessee, we see Ingram on the break and spacing the floor. Last season, Ingram shot only 15 three-pointers in transition and shot only 13%. Harrison is already up to eight shots from deep in transition, and has connected on over 65% of them. The speed with which he gets those shots up now—along with the confidence—has made Ingram into a player we have not seen.
It is in this clip that we see Harrison’s proof of confidence. Ingram is stepping into his shots with nothing but belief that his shot is going to fall much more consistently. His shot selection has gotten much better. He went from 47% of his jumpers being off the catch to now having over 91% of his jumpers coming directly off the pass. The elimination of record scratches and elevation in confidence have turned Ingram into a premier perimeter threat in the NCAA.
The passing ability has been there with Ingram for a while. As a freshman, he averaged 3.7 APG. He averaged 3.7 as a sophomore. The counting numbers have gone down but, even with “only” 2.7 APG so far, Harrison has continued to drop some dimes. This play against Arkansas shows a glimpse of the type of passes he displayed as a Cardinal.
Ingram gets his back to the basket, using his strength to apply pressure to the defense. The Razorback defense counters the pressure with a double team, which we know leaves a man open. Our guy has an open man in Elliot Cadeau for an open three but opts to throw an absolute dart to Seth Trimble in the opposite corner.
In this play against Villanova, we get to see Ingram make a different type of pass. Harrison gets the ball at the right elbow here and is able to make a play off of the bounce. This is the type of play that will be available—and asked of—for Harrison to make. The ability to make plays with one hand off a live dribble is awesome. Should Ingram be the 4th/5th man in a rotation, you’re looking at a lineup that could have multiple ball movers.
To be honest right from the jump, Ingram’s defensive numbers have taken a little bit of a hit at UNC. Synergy grades him out as average, as he is within the 43rd percentile in overall defense. Last year at Stanford, he was in the 53rd percentile (Average). Even as a freshman, Harrison was in the 52nd percentile (Good). Defensive metrics can tend to be a bit of a team stat—even when discussing individual numbers.
Ingram does have his struggles on quicker players at times but, in the seven isolation plays he has to his credit, Harrison is only allowing a 40% completion rate. In this clip against Cam’Ron Fletcher, we see Ingram use his intelligence and timing to stop his drive to the basket. As Fletcher gets into his dribble breakdown, Harrison is able to poke the ball loose and generate two easy points for UNC. If you think rips like this are fluky, you may be right. Or…
You could expect to see more plays like this. It feels like I’m using this player more to prop up other players as of late, but Dalton Knecht is a very talented player. Ingram is lined up across from Dalton, who brings the ball up to get into a set play. He opts to get a little fancy with Harrison, who again uses some smart hands to get the ball and generate points from his defense.
We see yet another example of Ingram using his instincts to force another turnover here. What I love about this play is the explosiveness we see from Harrison—especially considering his athleticism is one of the chief concerns in evaluating him. As Makhi Mitchell gets the ball at the top of the key, he looks to back Bacot down to find an open teammate—something he does often. Harrison—who did a great job of shutting the door on Jeremiah Davenport’s drive—times the second dribble of Mitchell, shoots the bounce, and is able to get the ball on the break.
Ingram’s 1.4 steals per contest aren’t setting the world on fire, but it’s a solid indication of his activity on defense.
In a class that is as wide open as this one, keeping options open is a must. In my piece about Kevin McCullar written last week, I wrote about how sometimes the scouting community can be a bit dismissive of a player who doesn’t address a specific weakness but can perfect a strength. While I still wholeheartedly believe that perspective, the biggest boost to a player’s draft stock comes from that sort of improvement.
McCullar came into the season with a deficiency in shooting, but he has been considered a potential draft pick for a couple of seasons now. Ingram had almost no traction in his draft stock, so coming into a new situation with a renewed shot will be the type of improvement scouts will notice. With the new shot, the appreciation for his passing, rebounding, and strength will come back.
This Harrison Ingram is the one scouts were hoping and expecting to see in year one. The scouting community turned off the Harrison Ingram notifications, but they will be coming back soon. They don’t want to face (plays menacing music) the revenge of the returner.
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