The first time I saw Joe Ingles play was against him on the basketball court. It was 2004, I was in Year 12 and playing in the South Australian School State Championships for my school, PAC. We had a match up against Pasadena High, who had the highly touted Ingles as their starting “Small” Forward. I put the word small in quotations for a reason. At 17 years of age, he was already around 6’8″, and needless to say he was a handful. We lost that game, but I was always interested in where this fellow South Australian’s career would take him.
I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure Ingles’ skillset would fit the modern NBA game. He’s slow and unathletic for an NBA wing – and I figured his game would be better suited for Euroleague. Ingles played four years in Spain for both CB Granada and FC Barcelona, and was pretty solid (8.0 points, 2.5 boards, 1.9 assists on 44.5%fg in 21.4mpg through 115 games). He finally achieved the ultimate European success, winning a Championship with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2013/14. Luckily for Joe, Scouts and Recruiters began to put a bigger premium on basketball smarts, not just a prospect’s athletic profile, wingspan and vertical. At the end of the day, basketball is a game about five players with chemistry, not a track meet. It is fortunate timing that small ball became en vogue around the same time Ingles finally managed to crack the big league.
Ingles played quite well for the LA Clippers in the 2013/14 preseason before being the final cut due to an injury to Jordan Farmar – a move Doc frankly admits was in the hope that he would clear waivers for them to sign later. The guys kept ahead of him? Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jared Cunningham. Joe didn’t clear waivers, and joined fellow Aussie Dante Exum in a place about as opposite to Australia’s climate as you can find – Utah.
The best comparison I can think of for Joe Ingles this season is a smaller, less athletic version of fellow lefty Josh McRoberts on the 2013/2014 Charlotte Bobcats. Yeah I know, he’s pretty washed up now, but McBob was a handy player for that ‘Cats team – flashing a non-traditional skillset for a guy his size that got him (unfortunately for my Heat) paid to the tune of 4 years and $23 million dollars. The Bobcats initiated a ton of their offense through McRoberts that season, particularly out of the high post and top of the key. This helped provide the spacing for post savant Al Jefferson to have a career season, and gave Kemba Walker plenty of good looks on a team that doubled their previous year’s win total.
Take a look at Ingles’ 24 games (to date) as a starter this season, compared to McRobert’s in Season 13/14:
Given “Aussie Joe” is an impending Free Agent, this is great news for his bank account. Ingles can play anywhere between the 1 and 4 on offense, and can cover 2 guards through 4’s defensively. He’s essentially Utah’s Swiss Army Knife, and a guy with his passing ability at his size are few and far between. Based on his play this season, I would expect Ingles will be offered deals around the 3 year and $20+ million dollar range, aka “McBob Money”.
As small ball and the three-point shot continue to become larger parts of the NBA offense, Ingles’ value appears to be trending up. Take a look at his 2016/2017 Heat Map to see where he’s getting his buckets:
Joe Ingles 2016/17 Heat Map from nbasavant.com
Ingles is lighting it up from everywhere behind the three point line, but is particularly scorching from the top of the key and the right corner. Given the Jazz start non-shooters in Rudy Gobert and Boris Diaw, Ingles spacing is vital in allowing Gordon Hayward’s forays to the hoop, acting as the pressure release for teams to stop packing the paint. You can’t just sag into the key and allow Joe to kill you with his surprisingly quick but unorthodox stroke.
You can also see that his shot chart is basically devoid of any type of mid-range game. While this would be a handy addition, Ingles essentially stays within his strengths, and sometimes there is a lot to be said about sticking to what you’re good at. Play your role, and play it well.
It would be remiss of me to say that Ingles’ lone offensive attribute is his three point game though. Utah often uses him as the ball handler in pick and rolls, and Joe is great at finding the right time to hit his roll man.
Despite the fact that Gobert’s raw shooting numbers dip a little with Ingles on the court (eFG 74.3% compared to 66.4%), Utah as a team perform much more efficiently (1.156 points per possession compared to 1.070) and Gobert’s usage increases (17.3 to 21.5), given he gets easy looks like so:
Is Ingles partly responsible for Gobert’s monster second half of the season? Judging by the numbers, it would appear so.
Ingles is not limited to just finding the roll man though. The drive and kick has never been a bigger part of NBA offenses, and Ingles has figured out how to attack the hard close out that comes due to his elite three point shooting ability.
Defensively, you would think that Ingles would have a pretty hard time keeping up with the athletic wings offered nightly in the NBA. However, what Joe lacks in foot speed and lateral movement he makes up for with veteran savvy and smarts.
He has quick hands, plays the passing lanes, and isn’t afraid to body up and make his player uncomfortable. I mean, if he can keep Lebron James in front of him, he can pretty much defend anyone. Plus, a new addition to the Jingles repertoire: getting lippy!
How valuable is Ingles to the Jazz? Let’s look behind the numbers. He’s currently 3rd on the team in VORP (Value over replacement player) at 2.3 (behind Gobert and Hayward), and 4th on the team in Win Shares at 5.1 (behind those two, and George Hill). He also has a 61% True Shot Percentage, which is 3rd on the team behind Gobert (who dunks) and Joel Bolomboy (who has played in 11 games). It’s pretty clear that Joe is the Jazz candidate for the “No Stats All-Star”, and a player highly depended on by Coach Snyder.
As a Restricted Free Agent this Off-Season, Utah are in the box seat to retain his services. However, when it comes to where Joe is going to be playing next season, there are a ton of options if Utah don’t come to the pay table. You could imagine him fitting in seamlessly on the Spurs alongside Kawhi Leonard and LMA, and he’d be a Pop kind of player. If Manu Ginobili retires, he’d be a really nice option as a replacement. He’d also be great fun next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philly, either starting or backing up Dario Saric and playing for his old Australia coach Brett Brown. With Jabari Parker out, he would be a quality option for the Bucks as another floor spacer and facilitator at the Guard or Forward spot….plus we get to put him with Delly and Thon. Can we just make Philly and Milwaukee “Australia’s team’s” already? Needless to say, just about every team could use a role player like Joe Ingles on their roster.
Hell, he’s the least NBA looking player since Steve Novak, but Ingles is proving he’s no Average Joe. Welcome to the Purple Cobras, Joe.