IN THE MIDST OF AN INJURY CRISIS AND ROSTER UPHEAVAL, JOE INGLES IS ONCE AGAIN ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS ON THE UTAH JAZZ.
By Paul Headley
The Utah Jazz haven’t been just snake-bitten by injuries the last few years: they’ve had cobra venom in their eyes and an anaconda slowly choking them unconscious. The Jazz medical team was inundated with all sorts maladies last season. The starters were limited to just 152 minutes as a unit, by far the lowest total of any team in the league. The team is healthy compared to last year, but still ranks 26th in the league in starter availability.
Departed wing Gordon Hayward (lest we speak his name) and defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert were the big reasons the team was able to survive so many ad hoc line-ups on their way to 51 wins in 2017, but there was another unsung hero in the Jazz locker room: Australian born Joe Ingles.
Ingles played in all 82 games in 2016-17, and ranked third on the team despite only getting consistent rotation minutes from December on. Ingles ranked 35th in the league in offensive real plus minus, and slowly morphed into an indispensable role-player in the NBA.
It’s cliche to suggest a player came out of nowhere, but what better way is there to state it? How does an undrafted player, so painfully discarded by the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2014, end up with a 52 million dollar contract less than three years later?
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ROLE PLAYER EXTRAORDINAIRE
It’s been repeated ad nauseam, but Ingles doesn’t look like an NBA player. Opposing players and fans often underestimate Ingles’ abilities. As he said himself on a recent podcast with ESPN’s Zach Lowe:
“I get it everywhere, look at the Maths teacher, look at the science teacher, which I kind of enjoy — I don’t mind a bit of banter on the court,” he said.
Underestimate him at your peril. Ingles is one of the most well-rounded wings in the league, the type of plug-and-play guy coaches dream about.
Ingles’ best attribute might be his basketball IQ. He reads the game quicker than most, and can make complex reads in a fraction of a second. In this first clip, watch him use his length and anticipation to disrupt Andrew Wiggins’s entry pass.
Realizing he can’t quite gather the ball, he tips it to Ricky Rubio–saving valuable seconds to attack a scrambling defense–and immediately gives him an outlet on the break. Ingles thinks about a three, but realizes Jimmy Butler (one of the best perimeter defenders in the league) is closing out. A streaking Derrick Favors is found cutting to the basket and the result is an easy two:
Such plays are emblematic of what makes the Jazz–and Ingles–better than the sum of their parts. Every player on the court is a threat to cut or pass or do something productive, and opposing defenses have to account for the fact that nothing is predictable (unless it’s Rubio shooting, but that’s a different problem).
In this next play, watch Ingles recognize how unbalanced the floor is. He attacks Lonzo Ball quicker than the ball gets kicked, knowing that it’ll result in either a one-pass-away open three in the corner, a drive and lay-up for himself, or an easy dish to Gobert for a dunk:
Rubio has been something of a disaster in Utah, particularly when paired with Gobert (minus 8.1 points per 100 possessions in 395 minutes together). Creativity is paramount anytime the pair share time on the court. Weave actions like the following, designed to create space and limit how much defenders can sag off Rubio to wall off the paint, are great:
Ingles is primarily known as a three-point-specialist. The Australian’s fairly slow release means the more space he has to shoot, the better. “Slow Mo Joe” shoots 54 percent on threes when “wide-open” (defined by Synergy stats as six feet). Ingles is less-effective on closely guarded shots, though he seldom ever takes them. That doesn’t really matter though. He’s great at faking defenders out of their socks:
Ingles’ handle is tight for a 6-foot-8 wing. Deceptively quick making moves toward the basket, Ingles can lull defenders to sleep before he strikes. Guys who can drive, shoot, and pass are the most difficult to stop. Ingles mixes up all three to keep defenders guessing at all times.
Ingles is surprisingly nimble, capable of navigating traps and tight spaces with his head up looking to pass. Watch him tip-toe along the baseline past DeAndre Jordan, get caught in no-mans-land before firing out to the boy wonder Donovan Mitchell to attack the close-out.
A PART OF THE FUTURE
Ingles’ large contract was criticized in some quarters of the NBA world. Perceived as nothing more than a high-powered role-player with limited upside (due to age), what was the point of giving him an extended contract? It seems that was flawed thinking.
Though he is already north of his 30th birthday, Ingles has very few NBA miles on his body (just 5,794 minutes through four seasons). He also plays a smooth, low-impact style of basketball in a smart organization that understands the value of rest.
What he lacks in youth, he makes up for in smarts and relative freshness. Though he may not excel at anything outside of spot-up shooting, he is short of any major flaws to be exploited at the highest level.
More importantly, he’s playable against teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Wings who can switch across multiple positions, hit threes and operate as viable secondary play-makers are rare. Even rarer are guys who can do all of those things without demanding more touches.
The Jazz stared at a painful re-building (re-loading?) phase when Hayward walked to Boston. The rise of Mitchell is numbing the pain for now. Donovan and Gobert have the makings of a dynamic pairing, potentially great if paired with the correct role-players. Derrick Favors rehabbed much of his trade value in Gobert’s absence with a strong run of play, but where he fits into the Jazz’s long-term future is unknown.
Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the league, one to be trusted in finding balance in line-ups and ways to best maximize the strengths (and hide the weaknesses) of his roster. Perpetual injuries don’t just have a debilitating effect on the players themselves, organizational sanity can be steered in the wrong direction if they don’t let up.
Hopefully the injury storm is almost past for the Jazz. Luckily for all in Utah, the steady hand of Jinglin’ Joe will be there to right the ship, no matter how battered it may become.