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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

NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs

Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

Joel Brigham

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This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.

Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.

The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.

For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.

That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.

In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.

Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.

Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.

The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.

What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.

That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.

The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.

The Western Conference

Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.

The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.

Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.

The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.

That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.

Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.

The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.

Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors

If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.

Moke Hamilton

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For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.

Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.

A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.

In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.

The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.

At least, that was the case until Saturday night.

* * * * * *

With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.

Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.

Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.

It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.

This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.

With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.

At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.

Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.

In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.

Poetic, indeed.

* * * * * *

With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.

At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.

What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.

For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.

Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.

Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.

While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.

Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.

Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…

And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.

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NBA

G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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