During the 2014-15 season, Joe Ingles’ first in the NBA, I remember sitting in a hotel room with some fellow door-to-door salesmen, watching the Utah Jazz play and listening to those coworkers laughing about the rookie small forward.
“How is this guy in the NBA?” served as the evening’s general refrain.
Two years later, answering that question is much easier.
Ingles was a solid-enough role player during his first two seasons in the NBA, averaging 9.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes while shooting 37.1 percent from three. But now, he’s found a whole new level of production. Cliches like “glue guy” and “best player you’ve never heard of” may not apply much longer if he continues at his current pace.
This season, if we judge strictly on NBA Math’s total points added (TPA), Ingles is a top-50 player (currently 46th).
Among that top 50, he’s 36th in TPA per 36 minutes—the only other reserves in the group are Lucas Nogueira, Greg Monroe, Patty Mills, Jon Leuer (until his recent promotion) and Lou Williams. He’s also one of just seven with a usage percentage under 15, joining Trevor Ariza, DeAndre Jordan, Patrick Beverley, Danny Green, Tristan Thompson and Nogueira.
So, how does Ingles do so much with so little time (19.6 minutes per game) and so few possessions?
Let’s start with the offensive side of the floor, where he makes the extra pass, takes smart shots almost exclusively and leads the NBA in three-point percentage (49.5).
As a passer, Ingles is often too unselfish, turning his nose up at open looks in an effort to find wide-open ones. That tendency can frustrate Jazz fans, but it ultimately leads to trust. Without it, head coach Quin Snyder wouldn’t have him serve as the quarterback on set and out-of-bounds plays.
A common scene in Jazz games has become the Ingles-to-Gordon Hayward alley-oop (sidenote: Hayward leads the NBA in alley-opps finished by a non-big, per NBASavant.com):
Ingles also runs a solid pick-and-roll, thanks in large part to his patience as the ball-handler:
He’s capable of throwing pocket-passes like the one above to Jeff Withey, but he can also wait and let action develop on the perimeter:
As for Ingles’ shot selection, he’s fully embraced modern NBA basketball.
Over 60 percent of his field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc, and another 17.5 percent come from within three feet of the rim:
Those two zones produce more points per shot than any others. Consequently, his aversion to low-efficiency areas and willingness to fire away from those is part of why he’s eighth in the league in true shooting percentage (third among players 6’8″ or shorter).
Understandably, most of Ingles’ national attention stems from his shooting. But he’s quietly become one of Utah’s best perimeter defenders too.
So far this season, he’s in the top 50 in steal percentage and top 100 in defensive box plus-minus. According to NBA Math’s defensive points saved, he comes in at exactly No. 100 and is posting his third above-average score in three seasons. In recent weeks, Snyder has even called upon him to serve as the defensive stopper in big moments.
“I’m just trying to be a more aggressive player in that situation,” Ingles said of his recent clutch defense against the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lou Williams (one of the NBA’s top 20 players in offensive points added this season), per Mike Sorensen of Deseret News. “I want to try and be aggressive and dictate the play a little bit. You’ve just got to try and make it tough on them.”
That’s exactly what Ingles did when assigned to defend Williams down the stretch of Utah’s 102-100 victory on Dec. 27. The latter had been torching the Jazz in the second half, but Ingles was able to stymie him when they needed it most.
He got the same type of call in a Dec. 31 game against the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker dropped 18 points on the Jazz in the first quarter before Ingles got the assignment.
He finished with 20 points.
Look at Ingles navigate a physical screen by Tyson Chandler and recover in time to contest Booker’s pull-up jumper:
Next quarter, he moved quickly enough to get back in perfect defensive position and bait his assignment into a tough fadeway that clanged off the rim:
“He’s gotten better defensively,” Snyder said, per Sorensen. “It’s one of the things that people are not talking about Joe. He’s shot it very very well, but defensively he’s really improved and is using his length to have a presence on the ball and off the ball. It’s good to see.”
He won’t ever be known as a defensive ace, but Ingles is solid on that end. His positive score in defensive points saved is a strong contribution to his overall TPA, even if that’s something many may not have expected.
In addition to boosting the quantifiable aspects of his game, Ingles has grown into a leader Snyder can trust, regardless of what’s happening with his role.
Roy Ward of The Sydney Morning Herald shared some of Snyder’s thoughts on his Aussie sharpshooter:
Joe and I talk openly and respectfully and I respect his opinion. I told him at the start that this would be a tough year for him from the standpoint that he is going to have games where he plays a little and games where he plays a lot. The other night he played eight seconds in the first half to inbound a ball then, gosh, in the second half he played 18 minutes. He’s one of those guys where a coach can rely on his character to handle fluctuations in his minutes, that’s where we are, that’s what makes a player like Joe really, really valuable.
Injuries have helped Ingles secure a more consistent role than the one described above. But even as the Jazz start to get healthy, it’s hard to imagine Snyder reducing his playing time. Not after what he’s already done during his age-29 season.
He’s just so solid on both ends—one of 59 players this season with above-average marks in both offensive points added and defensive points saved. Already, the combination of his various efforts and steady leadership have made him not just the kind of player Utah wants in the rotation, but the type of contributor every team needs.
Follow Andy Bailey on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.