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NBA Week: Why Ingles deserves more credit for overcoming odds

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Expert
16th December, 2021
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If he played in the NBA a decade or two ago, Joe Ingles’ remarkable effort to thrive over the course of eight seasons would have been given a lot more recognition.

It says a lot about how Australian NBA fans have been spoilt for success in recent years that Ingles’ achievements haven’t received more widespread acclaim.

But it’s been overshadowed by the golden era of championship rings earned by Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and Matthew Dellavedova, as well as Ben Simmons going first in the Draft.

All the while “Jinglin’ Joe” has been living out a true underdog story in Utah, one that many thought was beyond him before he entered the NBA back in 2014.

Ingles has had a truly unique journey – after bursting onto the Australian scene as a teenager with the successful but quickly combustible South Dragons, he left for Europe after the grand final win in 2009.

He was constantly overlooked as a player who did not appear to have the athleticism to make the jump across the Atlantic from Europe and to be frank, his stats didn’t paint the picture of someone crying out to be picked up by an NBA team.

When it looked like he was close to breaking into the NBA eight years ago, ESPN international expert Fran Fraschilla openly questioned whether Ingles had the skill set to survive it in the toughest competition on the planet.

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The story has been told many times about how the LA Clippers brought him into training camp and eventually cut him on the eve of the 2014-15 season in a move that backfired immensely – he would have been the perfect small forward to complement the Lob City line-up of Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

But the Jazz saved him from a long flight home, it seemed primarily as a big brother style teammate to their lottery pick, Australian guard Dante Exum.

Signed on an entry level ($US500,000) one-year deal, Ingles steadily worked his way into the rotation and was rewarded with a two-year extension worth $4.3 million.

But such was his improvement as the Jazz became a perennial playoff team, Utah needed to dig deep to keep him and in 2017 he signed a four-year $52m contract which was extended this season by another year and another $13m for the 34-year-old forward.

And yet again, true to form, Ingles and his wife, former Australian Diamonds netballer Renae Ingles (formerly Hallinan) have used a large portion of his contract money to raise funds and awareness for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) after their son Jacob, a twin to daughter Milla and older brother to baby Jack, was diagnosed as being on the spectrum.

“Nobody in the world needs that much money,” he said at the time in trademark unassuming fashion after inking his financial windfall.

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Although he cops plenty from rival fans who sledge “Slo-Mo Joe” about his physique and lack of athleticism compared to the supernatural freaks in the NBA, it’s often said the best ability in the NBA is availability and Ingles has certainly been that with his durability.

He played 79 games from 82 in his rookie season and missed just one from the next five years. Ingles sat out five of the shortened 72-game schedule last season and has suited up for all 26 of Utah’s fixtures this campaign.

Ingles was runner-up in sixth man of the year voting last season behind Utah guard Jordan Clarkson and in typical fashion, he awarded his unsuspecting teammate the trophy in a televised presentation.

It was just reward for Clarkson, who has bounced around the league before rebuilding his career at the Jazz, but also great recognition for Ingles, who has also had to accept a bench role following last year’s acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic.

“I tried to get him the ball as much as possible so he could win Sixth Man of the Year,” Ingles said of his teammate with a smile after presenting the award in May. “I think his impact off the bench is something he’s embraced and taken pride in.

“I think it is sometimes difficult when guys go to the bench, and I’m not sure of their role or if they are being demoted or whatever. But to accept it, and with the impact he does, obviously numbers speak for themselves.”

Joe Ingles dribbles the ball

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Ingles could have been speaking about himself there. Initially he struggled to adjust to not being in the starting line-up but ended the season with career-highs in 15.6 points per game and three-point shooting percentage (45%) and maintained his all-round play with 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds while still averaging 28 minutes.

This year 25 minutes per game and output has dipped slightly to 11.7 points, 5 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

And the team is again firing – after disappointing playoff exits in recent years, Utah are third in the Western Conference with an impressive 19-7 record and with guard Donovan Mitchell and centre Rudy Gobert genuinely elite at their position, the Jazz have a fighter’s chance of upstaging their higher-rated contenders like Golden State, Phoenix, Brooklyn and Milwaukee in the post-season.

A free agent at season’s end, Ingles still has the three-point accuracy, passing and under-rated defensive skills to last a few more years in the NBA. Hopefully, the Jazz offer him another lucrative deal – it would be great to see him retire with the franchise, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibilities to even see his No.2 jersey retired to the rafters.

Aussies in the Big Show

If you’re not keeping an eye on Patty Mills’ efforts for Brooklyn this season, you’re missing out. With James Harden now joining Kyrie Irving on the sidelines as Brooklyn suited up only eight players, Mills stepped up yet again for the Nets on Wednesday, nailing a three-pointer to force overtime, then hitting the winning contested jumper to secure the 131-129 win over Toronto.
He finished with a season-high 30 points to lift his average to a career-high 13.3 and was a +15 on the floor.

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Out of the box scores: Stat of the week

Nikola Jokic is fifth in the NBA in scoring (26.5), first in points in the paint (15), second in rebounds (13.8) and the Nuggets centre is 11th for assists at 7.3 behind 10 guards while he’s also lifted his defensive output. He will give Steph Curry and Kevin Durant a run for their money in the MVP stakes as he looks to go back to back.

Weekend must-watch

Saturday – Nuggets @ Hawks, 11.30am AEDT
Nikola Jokic is carrying Denver on his broad shoulders, Trae Young’s frame is a tad leaner but he’s doing likewise for Atlanta as both teams try to break into the playoff picture in their respective conferences.

Sunday – Cavaliers @ Bucks, 1pm AEDT
Cleveland have been the big improvers this season on the back of Jarrett Allen’s “frodowns” and gun rookie Evan Mobley’s all-round class whereas Milwaukee are still yet to settle into a groove after last season’s championship glory.

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