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Let’s think this through: Should the Wizards trade Beal for Brandon Ingram?

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves
Should the Wizards trade Bradley Beal for Brandon Ingram?
Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Yesterday, Ben Mehic took a look at Bradley Beal to the Los Angeles Lakers trade rumors (very unlikely) and speculated on what it would take for the Wizards to send Beal to the New Orleans Pelicans.

As Mehic wrote, the Lakers don’t have enough to make a deal happen. They sent their best youngsters to New Orleans to get Anthony Davis. As they should have. There are at least two non-starters in any theoretical Beal to the Lakers trade:

  1. The players the Lakers might be willing to part with aren’t very good.
  2. Even if they were any good, their salaries don’t come to close to matching Beal’s.

The Lakers would have to gut the team and give up a passel of future firsts and pick swaps, and it still wouldn’t be worth it to either team.

As Mehic suggested, the deal with the Pelicans is more feasible. The Pelicans could send a package of youngsters like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes or Josh Hart, as well as draft picks.

His column left me wondering if a deal built around Ingram for Beal would be worth it for the Wizards. I twitched on this passage enough to take a look into the numbers:

Now that he’s left Los Angeles and has been given freedom to make mistakes, as any young star should, Ingram has already blossomed into one of the league’s top scorers. In just his fourth season, Ingram has averaged over 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists — and he’s done so efficiently, making close to 47 percent of his total shots and 39 percent of his threes. The aforementioned numbers will earn him a max contract — and the Pelicans, or in this case, the Wizards, would be foolish not to lock him up long-term.

And that’s, again, at 22.

What will Ingram look like at 25? If he continues to develop at this rate, there’s no question that he will remain an All-Star, and possibly start being mentioned among the top 10-15 players in the league.

I have quibbles.

First, I think that’s a stretch to say he’s become one of the league’s top scorers, at least at this point. Scoring is his strongest attribute, but his efficiency was basically average. Solid shooting was offset by elevated turnovers.

Second, his playmaking — 5.8 assists per 100 team possessions this season — looks sorta okay until weighed against those turnovers. Of the players who averaged as many turnovers per possession as Ingram, only Andre Drummond, Joel Embiid, Zach LaVine and Julius Randle had lower assist numbers.

Ingram became a (probably deserving) All-Star this season, and will almost surely receive a maximum contract this offseason. How good was he though?

My metric, PPA (100 is average, higher is better) had him at 138 — solidly better than average, but some ways from the game’s elite performers. A look at is performance EKG shows a hot start, a tapering down and then maintenance around the level of a 150 PPA for 40-plus games,

Brandon Ingram 2019-20 performance EKG
Kevin Broom

His best stint of the season came fairly late — a five-game binge against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls that collectively rated a PPA 244.

He sprained his ankle against the Bulls and missed the next three contests. When he returned, his performance vacillated from excellent to awful, likely dependent on how his ankle was feeling. His worst stretch of the season was the five games before the league suspended play — a soul-crushing 13 PPA.

Overall, here’s how his performance broke down game by game this season:

  • 200+ PPA (MVP candidate level) — 32%
  • 100+ (average or better) — 64%
  • Negative score — 11%

Looking at the full picture provides ample opportunity for optimists and pessimists alike. Ingram’s performance this season was pretty good overall, and downright good for a 22-year old. But, it was also his fourth season (his first three were bad) and he’s in a contract year.

Did he really become a better three-point shooter (career best 38.7% on a career high 8.5 attempts per 100 team possessions) or was it one of those one-year flukes?

To get a sense for what Ingram’s future might look like, I turned to league history and ran him through my statistical doppelganger machine. The list of most similar seasons would make even a pessimist happy:

  • Paul George, ages 23, 25, 26 (although Ingram is not the demon defender George was/is)
  • Bradley Beal, ages 23, 34
  • C.J. McCollum, age 25
  • Devin Booker, age 21
  • Gordon Hayward, age 26

Moving further down the list, I see names like Kyrie Irving (21), Victor Oladipo (first year in Indiana), Ray Allen, Jason Richardson, and Donovan Mitchell. The only red flag name name is Jabari Parker whose age 21 season was fairly similar, except that it was interrupted by a torn ACL. Also, while Ingram isn’t exactly a good defender, he’s also not indifferent on that end like Parker is.

The other “tap the brakes” guy is Eric Gordon, who got hurt at age 23 and never really got back on track.

While Ingram’s performance this season wouldn’t typically be worth a maximum contract, I think it’s a reasonable for a team to wager that he’ll become worth it over the next 4-5 seasons. Then layer in the added value the Wizards would be able to extract — Ball (above average PG) and Hayes (solid center at age 19) and perhaps a pick or two — and a trade starts making a lot of sense for the Wizards.

When I shift my focus to the Pelicans side, a potential deal starts disintegrating. The next 4-5 years of Ingram is likely to be as good as or better than the next 4-5 from Beal. Plus, Ingram, Ball and Hayes align better with the age of the team’s true star, Zion Williamson than does Beal.

To me, the Pelicans side of this looks straightforward: re-sign Ingram, lock in the young core, build out the roster with the draft, free agency and judicious trades, and be patient while the kids learn.

Realistically, there’s no trade here whether or not the Pelicans want Beal. The Wizards have been adamant about keeping him — they didn’t swap him for James Harden on draft night and they flatly rejected even discussing sending him to the Clippers to be running buddies with Kawhi Leonard.

If it was heartless me running the Wizards, I’d swap Beal for Ingram, Ball, Hayes and as many draft picks I could extract from the Pelicans. With Tommy Sheppard and Ted Leonsis at the helm, Beal’s going to stay as long as he wants — whether there are good trade options or not.