NBA draft projections: Ranking Simmons, Ingram and top 40

Is Brandon Ingram a safer pick than Ben Simmons? Icon Sportswire

The Philadelphia 76ers are officially on the clock for the 2016 NBA Draft, which takes place on June 23 in Brooklyn.

Most expect Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo to select Ben Simmons with the top pick, but is there a case to be made that Brandon Ingram will be a better player?

To help sort out the debate at the top (and bottom) of the draft, ESPN Analytics has developed projections for how well college prospects ranked in Chad Ford's Top 100 will perform early in their careers. More accurately, it is predicting a player's statistical plus-minus (SPM) in years two through five in the league, which is the time frame players are under team control for below-market prices without unnecessarily penalizing them for outlier rookie seasons.

The model uses box score stats (adjusted for level of competition faced and pace), scouts' rankings and player information -- such as age, height, weight and position from 2001 to 2011 -- to project out future classes. The resulting output is twofold: a player's draft grade, which is based on his total projected SPM, and his percentage chance to play at the level of an All-Star, starter, bench player and bust in his first five seasons.

The players with the highest draft grades have the most expected SPM during years two through five, but they might not necessarily have the highest ceiling. In comparison, the buckets of All-Star, starter, bench player and bust give a clearer picture of the tradeoff between risk and reward for each prospect.

For more on the model's inputs, outputs and performance projections of past classes, we encourage anyone interested to read FiveThirtyEight's write-up on it in 2015 or this explainer.

So what should the 76ers do with the top pick?

Despite the consensus among scouts, these projections question whether Simmons is truly the best player in the class. Ingram has the highest draft grade, based on total projected SPM, and he is most likely to play at the level of an All-Star or starter during his first five seasons.

In comparison, Simmons has similar upside, but he comes with a far greater risk. In fact, among the top 10 college prospects in the projections, no player had a higher bust potential than Simmons. While that bust rate of 35 percent might seem high, it's worth noting that of the past 10 players selected No. 1 overall, three (Greg Oden, Anthony Bennett and Andrea Bargnani) have been widely considered disappointments.

Why do the projections favor Ingram? To start, he is more than a year younger than Simmons and can stretch the floor, which is becoming more important for forwards in today's NBA. Simmons has the edge when it comes to playmaking and rebounding, though, so the 76ers will have to weigh the risk and reward of each prospect and how he fills their biggest needs.

For teams looking at guards, the debate likely shifts to Providence's Kris Dunn and Kentucky's Jamal Murray. Again, the conversation comes down to risk aversion. Murray has the highest upside of any guard, but Dunn has the highest draft grade and lowest bust potential. Despite entering the draft at age 22, Dunn's college statistics -- in particular, his vision and defensive production -- are unrivaled among guards in this class.

Though the focus will always be at the top of the draft, it is likely that in 10 years this class will be remembered for its depth rather than its superstars. Highlighted by the deepest crop of college big men we've seen in the past 15 seasons, there are plenty of steals to be found outside the lottery.

For example, Michigan State's Deyonta Davis, Kansas' Cheick Diallo and Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku rank outside the top 14 on Chad Ford's Big Board but would be lottery picks based on these projections. All three big men have one thing in common: elite rebounding, which is one factor that translates to the NBA.

Looking for another sleeper? Patrick McCaw, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard from UNLV, ranks 27th on Chad Ford's Big Board and 16th in the model's rankings. McCaw is a raw but talented 3-and-D prospect who would fit in perfectly in today's game.

Of course, there are always players that the model rates less favorably than scouts. Chief among those prospects is Vanderbilt point guard Wade Baldwin IV, who ranks 18th on Chad Ford's Big Board and 41st in the model. Baldwin's college stats will not blow anyone away, and as a bit of a tweener, the model might question how he translates to the NBA.

Now, no model or scout will ever be 100 percent accurate when projecting players to any professional league, but this one is about 10 percent better at predicting a player's actual SPM than scouts' ranks alone. If nothing else, this model provides the framework to discuss the risk, reward and potential of the prospects in this draft class.