Like the unathletic kid in the school yard, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were selected last to play in the big game, all while holding the best record in the league.
Joe Ingles is good at basketball.
Considering his supposed lack of athleticism, to be averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and one steal per game in 25 minutes a game over his seven-year career suggests he is very good at basketball.
Over the past four seasons, Ingles has been given more responsibility in coach Quin Snyder’s system, and has averaged around five assists and 11 points a game.
It is time for Australians to acknowledge what Ingles has done in the NBA. It is time because he is about to take over John Stockton as the franchise leader for the Jazz in three-pointers made.
Stockton played 17 seasons. Ingles is in his seventh season.
Ingles will be most likely taken over in this stat by Donovan Mitchell, given Mitchell is throwing up 8.6 three-point attempts a game in 2020-21. Ingles is throwing up 5.4 attempts. Mitchell is one of the best scorers in the league, but his three-point percentage is lower than Ingles’.
That Ingles has overtaken Stockton in seven seasons underlines the changes in the NBA and the Jazz’s game plan. The league has moved to higher percentage strategies of points in the paint, and a higher volume of three-point attempts. Why attempt long twos when they miss at nearly the same rate as three-pointers?
But let’s not ignore Ingles’ impact as a shooter, or his overall basketball IQ, and play-making skills.
As a side note it is amusing to read comments on Ingles videos and articles, which say how he looks like a normal guy, a bartender or a maths teacher, citing his lack of athleticism and receding hairline. Indeed, there are many ways that Ingles is not your average NBA player.
Pre-game he dresses like a normal human, for one thing. But on the other hand, there are not too many people on the planet who are six foot seven with a six foot eight wingspan, who can move with like he does with such balance, shoot with skill, and pass the ball creatively like Ingles.
This agility, vision and play-making comes together in the pick and roll, where Ingles is a master. Forbes journalist Ben Dowsett notes the Ingles-Rudy Gobert pick and roll is one of the best duos in the entire league. They rank fourth in the league scoring per chance, resulting from the pick and roll.
It helps having a smart, lanky finisher to feed, and who sets great screens, like Gobert. But Ingles’ game smarts, creative offloads, pass fakes and lefty lay-ups can be devastating for opposing teams. If defences send a third defender to counter Ingles’ crafty drives, he’ll kick it out to teammates who can shoot behind the arc.
As noted earlier, in the last four seasons, Ingles has averaged around five assists a game, which is testament to his ball-handling against the best players in the world. That is huge for a six-foot-seven small forward who shoots around or over 40 per cent from three himself. I’ll get back to the three-point shooting shortly.
For a few seasons, Ingles was the go-to defender for the best small forwards and wings in the NBA. Recently the Jazz have given that role to Royce O’Neale, and for good reason. In the first-round play-off series against the Thunder in 2018 he got under Paul George’s skin and helped win the series for the Jazz. In the 2017 playoffs, he blanketed JJ Reddick – one of the best shooters in the league.
Ingles is never the fastest player on court, but he is quite laterally agile for a six-foot-seven player and has a very quick brain, and good hands. One steal a game plus myriad deflections are what Jazz fans have come to expect from Ingles on the defensive end.
Not only that, he is a master of getting inside players’ heads and frustrating them, often to the point where they make mistakes. I remember last year Ingles frustrating Ben Simmons, who wanted to drive to the hoop repeatedly against Ingles, thinking his athleticism would win out.
Simmons turned it over once, and then was fouled for a charge as Ingles anticipated and got into position. This is not the only reason why Ingles is the best basketballer Australia has ever produced.
He is a team player. He is the ultimate baller who gets involved even when having an off shooting night. He does many things for his team, including annoying opponents. Ingles is an elite secondary ball-handler as a point forward.
He has been the primary ball-handler on many occasions, such as when Ricky Rubio was injured in 2018, and Ingles responded by averaging around seven assists after the All Star break. Ingles sometimes steps up as a primary scorer at shooting guard position. Ingles has been a serious three-point threat for four seasons now.
Most importantly, he is a coach on the court, knows what the situation requires and overall gives the Jazz a “grit and edge”, in the words of Reggie Miller. Just yesterday against the Mavericks, Donovan Mitchell sat out, and Ingles stepped up in scoring and play-making, with 21 points and eight assists (they were real assists setting up Gobert at the rim).
It was a masterful display reminding us that he still impacts the game in many ways, and continues to have opponents guessing and being unable to counter the pick and roll. He is 33 and not getting any faster, yet his play is top level and still has a major impact in this very tough league.
This season Ingles is up to 44 per cent three-point percentage after a weaker shooting performance last season. In 2017-18 he shot at 44 per cent and scored 204 three-pointers for the season. That is a franchise record. Donovan may one day beat that. Donovan will overtake Ingles one day unless he is traded out for most three-pointers in Jazz history, but his ball usage and role is different to Ingles’.
The true beauty has been his efficiency and his multifaceted game.
Ingles is one three-pointer away from overtaking Stockton as the leader in three-pointers scored for the Jazz. By the time you read this, chances are he will be number one in franchise history. Ingles holds the record for most three-pointers in a season with 204.
He has four of the top 15 performances for three-pointers made in a single season. Ingles is eighth for total assists for the Jazz and will likely finish in the top five. He averages more assists per game than high usage players such as Gordon Hayward. Ingles is 12th in career steals for the Jazz franchise and will probably finish in the top seven.
The best thing is, though, most analysts suggest that stats do not even reflect the impact Ingles has on games. He gets the teams into passing mentality, he adds leadership and grit, and he also spreads the floor with his three-point threat and passing, making his teammates look better. In some ways he plays NBA like the best AFL players influence games. He has impact, hardness, teamwork, defence, creative use of the ball, and skill.
Ingles is currently the best NBA player we have ever produced. Simmons may overtake him, Patty Mills is currently on fire, and Andrew Bogut had some dominating seasons too, but Ingles’ all-round skills and team play mean he is the smartest NBA player we have ever produced.
Let’s bask in Ingles’ amazing career in the NBA, which he started as a 27-year-old, being cut from the Clippers and thankfully being picked up by the Jazz. It has been a match made perfectly, thanks to Ingles’ selfless style of play, and the selfless sharing basketball that Snyder’s coaching asks for.