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NBA PM: Joe Ingles’ Quietly Vital Progression

Ben Dowsett uses a single Quin Snyder quote to break down Joe Ingles’ vital importance to the Jazz.

Ben Dowsett

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Jazz coach Quin Snyder isn’t generally a man of broad, sweeping platitudes. That doesn’t mean he won’t compliment his team and players, of course – he’s just not the type to wax too poetic or waste too much time reflecting. He’s very much about the now; next play, next game. His team has followed suit.

Even Snyder breaks form every now and then, though, whether intentionally or otherwise. Perhaps without even meaning for it to happen, a recent postgame quote about swingman Joe Ingles’ contributions to a win over the Clippers ended up, in Snyder’s own deeply technical way, succinctly summing up much of Ingles’ entire NBA career.

“He figured out that he could shoot, and started shooting. And then people started having to close out on him, and he’s able to use his shot to get in the lane. And then he figured out how to shoot a floater and a little scoop shot, so he became even more effective in the paint. He’s actually a really good finisher, which – not to diminish his athleticism, but you don’t necessarily see that from Joe. He’s crafty in there. I think he’s learned to use fakes, to dig into it a little bit from a coach’s standpoint. Ball fakes, pass fakes, shot fakes. And with his size, he’s able to see…. I like to say he’s got his eyes out.”

Snyder was answering a question about Ingles’ single-game performance against Los Angeles; he ended up summarizing over a full year’s worth of development. It’s a progression few would have thought possible from a 29-year-old former journeyman pro.

Snyder’s comments are curiously fitting, though. Ingles’ rapid ascension didn’t begin in the playoffs, and it certainly didn’t even begin at the start of the year. But in a series where the Jazz now stand on the brink of jamming the first big nail in the coffin of the Lob City Clippers, every step on the development ladder Snyder described for Ingles has been on display – and has been more needed than nearly anyone might expect.

*****

“He figured out he could shoot, and started shooting.”

When Ingles first arrived in Salt Lake City, he was tentative. It was nothing like his early days playing professionally in Australia; one observer from that time period described him as an “unapologetic gunner.”

In Utah, Ingles had to be slowly convinced that he was, in fact, a great NBA shooter. Despite solid shooting numbers in his NBA rookie season, at age 27, Ingles became almost infamous for his willingness to pass up open shots. He was one of the new guys in a motion offense, and no one wants to come off as selfish – Ingles may have taken this a bit too far.

The issue lingered for most of that rookie season, but movement started the following year. Ingles upped his three-point attempts by nearly two per-36-minutes for the 2015-16 season, scraping at 40 percent accuracy. He and fellow complementary piece Raul Neto were the two best volume three-point shooters on the team that year.

Ingles’ attempts decreased this year, but that’s only because everyone finally figured it out. He was third in the entire NBA for three-point percentage among qualified players on the year, approaching 50 percent for stretches earlier in November and December.

Curiously, this is the one element of Snyder’s statement about Ingles that hasn’t been noticeable in this first-round series – Ingles is shooting a weird 33 percent from deep against the Clippers. Again, though, the broad theme is present: It’s the next several levels of development that have made him valuable, just as they began to before the postseason even started.

*****

“And then people started having to close out on him, and he’s able to use his shot to get in the lane.”

There’s a reason Ingles’ three-point attempts went back down this year: Defenses wised up. When you nail nearly half of them for the first month of the season, you quickly become more prominent on the scouting report. If a defense’s fear of your long bomb lays out a red carpet like this, there really isn’t much choice but to take it.

The percentage of Ingles’ shots that have come at the rim has increased each year he’s been in the league, and nearly doubled from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

Snyder has talked often about Ingles as a non-traditional rookie. He’s not the right age, so maybe he isn’t still developing physically, but that doesn’t mean he can’t develop skills. This was the first layer.

*****

“And then he figured out how to shoot a floater and a little scoop shot, so he became even more effective in the paint.”

The path to the rim wasn’t always going to be so easy. You need some craft against the better defenses in the league, or really against any focused playoff team.

Psh. Joe Ingles and craft go together like Vegemite, avocado and toast (seriously, this is a real Australian thing).

With a couple handy tricks in the bag, Ingles could start getting into the lane even when the defense wasn’t basically inviting it. He’s upped his drives to the basket by a significant per-minute margin, per SportVU data; a higher and higher percentage of these drives has led to his own shot attempt rather than a pass.

In a series where the opponent has DeAndre Jordan, though, even more is necessary for a ball-handler. Luckily, Ingles had already taken those next steps too.

*****

“He’s crafty in there. I think he’s learned to use fakes, to dig into it a little bit from a coach’s standpoint. Ball fakes, pass fakes, shot fakes. And with his size, he’s able to see… I like to say he’s got his eyes out.”

Ingles has never been the type to blow by guys every time down the court, so he’s had to learn to maximize the way defenses react to him. Few guys have a better ball fake.

Chris Paul is the league’s gold standard for influencing defenders with every little movement; Ingles has looked positively Point God-ish at times this year, whether he’s creating his own offense or someone else’s.

And that’s the point, really. Ingles has become so good at getting to the right spots on the floor that he’s not really the one deciding whether he passes or finishes – the defense is doing that for him. He’s driving the Clippers mad through five games.

On a roster featuring George Hill, Gordon Hayward and even Boris Diaw, Ingles is Utah’s playoff assists leader. His 11 dimes in Game 4 is the most by any Jazz player in a single game all year.

Almost no one in the entire NBA postseason has thrown more meaningful passes: The percentage of Ingles passes that leads to a positive team event trails only Russell Westbrook and John Wall among volume passers, per SportVU figures – ahead of Paul, LeBron James and some of the other consensus best playmakers on earth.

And of course, none of this even addresses perhaps his largest development this year: Defense.

Ingles quietly became a weapon for Snyder here as the year went on. His lack of athleticism seems like a mirage; those same crafty themes we saw on offense have infiltrated his defensive game as well. He uses his body as well as anyone in the game, with sneaky hands and fantastic anticipation. He’s made life absolute hell for J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford in this series.

“Just keep chasing,” Ingles said of guarding Redick, who has barely managed 32 percent from deep in the series (he’s a career 41 percent three-point shooter). “Chase, and chase, and chase. He’s tough to guard. He obviously doesn’t stop. Gets a good look, jumps in the air, passes it off, goes back and gets another hand-off. So [I’m] just trying to make it tough.”

Ingles wasn’t quite his playmaking self in Game 5, and there’s a good chance it has to do with fatigue from the raw volume of his defensive load. When he isn’t chasing Redick around 10 picks every possession, he’s checked Crawford or even Paul – Snyder began experimenting with Ingles on the kinds of quicker guards the Jazz struggle to contain earlier in the year, and he’s clearly confident in Ingles there.

“They’re both tough,” Ingles said. “Chris obviously, in a different way because he’s so good with the ball, so good at using the pick and reading the defense. J.J., Jamal, those guys coming off the screen, it’s obviously hard to do that as well. Totally different style of defending, but pretty tough either way.”

Whichever Clipper shooter he’s on, that guy has gone ice cold. Los Angeles jump-shooters are hitting at a clip over 20 percent below their season averages from given areas while Ingles guards them, a huge enough gap that we can feel relatively safe blowing past the noisy caveats that typically accompany these numbers. This isn’t some sample-related mirage; Ingles is locking down and earning every bit of any pesky reputation he may have.

That might not be all he’s earning, either. Ingles’ future is a quietly big topic in Utah behind bigger names in Hayward and Hill; he and Hayward share an agent, Mark Bartlestein, and the two are close friends off the court.

The Jazz control Ingles’ rights as a restricted free agent this summer, a valuable layer of security. But they still run the risk of being forced to match a big offer – or, perhaps more relevant in this situation, of pressure from Bartlestein to keep both clients happy simultaneously. Money gets tight in a hurry if all three players are retained at anywhere near their market value.

That’s not on anyone’s mind for now, though. On a team chock full of developing youth, perhaps Utah’s biggest surprise this season – and especially this postseason – has been the guy who wasn’t a rookie until he was 27. Joe Ingles’ development has been quietly huge for the Jazz, and even Snyder can be forgiven the occasional reflective moment to appreciate it.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins

Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.

Buddy Grizzard

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Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.

“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.

“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.

“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.

“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.

“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”

Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.

With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.

“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.

With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.

“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”

Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.

In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.

“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”

While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.

Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.

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