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.
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