SALT LAKE CITY — He totes around his pink princess backpack, as mandated by Utah Jazz rookie tradition.
But at this point of the season, there’s not much else about Joe Ingles that makes it clear he is in his first year in the NBA.
For starters, Ingles is 27 years old.
He’s mature. He’s experienced. He’s not hesitant to communicate and, in fact, is one of the most talkative (and hilarious) guys on the team.
And, though his statistics don’t jump off the page, the amicable Australian is giving the Jazz some veteran-like minutes on the court.
Although Quin Snyder admitted he still has to remind Ingles how he wants things done on occasion — sometimes louder than others — the Jazz coach complimented his fill-in starting shooting guard by saying that he doesn’t seem like a rookie, at least more often than not.
“He’s played a lot of basketball. He’s played in big games, albeit in different situations,” Snyder said. “I don’t see him getting nervous. Sometimes you’d expect a younger player to get overwhelmed.
“He’s played in the Euroleague final four. He’s been in Belgrade with Stormtroopers protecting the perimeter during the game and bottle rockets going off. A loud crowd is something he’s used to.”
Those experiences since 2006 in everywhere from Down Under with the South Dragons and Aussie national team to time spent playing pro ball in Spain and Israel helped prepare Ingles for his best opportunity to make it in the NBA.
That’s not to say he hasn’t had some difficulty transitioning into the world’s best basketball league, but he’s continued to improve since the Jazz claimed him off of waivers after the Los Angeles Clippers cut him right before the regular season started last October.
“The more I play,” Ingles said, “the more comfortable I get.”
The biggest differences from his previous basketball experiences are the size and speed of the athletes in the NBA. The depth of talent on each team is far superior as well. His Israeli league required each team to have two nationals on the court at all times, which didn’t mean the best players were always out there.
“We’d play some teams in Israel that guys that wouldn’t make (bleep) street ball teams. Some of the guys we played were terrible,” Ingles recalled. “Now you’re playing with five guys coming off the bench that are all pretty impressive players.”
Ingles began the season as one of the Jazz reserves, filling in for wings Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward.
With time and injuries — specifically to Burks (season-ending) and rookie Rodney Hood — the opportunities have increased. He'll have another doozy of a matchup Friday night against Golden State.
The 6-foot-8 player isn’t quick compared to most NBA wings, but Snyder has described him as the type of guy you want to play with. He can handle the ball, pass well and do other intangibles that compensate for his lack of speed and hops.
Snyder is specifically pleased with Ingles’ improved defense, adding that he’s “started to play with more energy” as the season has progressed.
“He’s played better defensively, which I think is the crucial thing for him,” Snyder said. “I know the things he can do on offense. I just want him to keep focused on improving defensively and helping our team. He can be a really good team defender. He’s got a good feel for the game.”
Since his move to the starting lineup in the past month, Ingles, who describes himself as a “team-first, pass-first guy,” has averaged 6.2 points and 4.5 assists (more assists than point guards Trey Burke and Dante Exum, by the way).
Ingles had one of his best NBA games against his old team, totaling 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Wednesday’s 94-89 loss to the Clippers. He even had the play of the night — a nifty behind-the-back pass to Enes Kanter for a 3-point play.
Playing well against the team that cut him a few months ago “wasn’t foremost of my thought process,” Ingles said. But his old teammates were happy for him.
“A few of the (Clipper) guys came up and said it was nice to see me do well against them,” he said.
Count Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who’d hoped to keep the Aussie on his team, among those in the L.A. Chapter of the Joe Ingles Fan Club.
“He’s a good guy, number one, and just a good spirit, a good guy to have on the team,” Rivers said. “He’s playing well, so I’m really happy for him.”
Ingles, who gives the Jazz a nice size advantage on most nights at his guard position, is happy for playing chances and to have found an NBA home, of course.
Called “Jingles” by some, he is also happy to be in a league that’s more talented and tamer than some he’s participated in over the years.
He’s had “all kinds of things” thrown at him, including drinks. He’s been spat upon. He’s had teammates become bloodied up after being hit by tossed objects. Last year, Ingles even had a teammate who went into the crowd during a heated conflict.
And there were the gyms, some of which weren’t as nice as the Jazz’s practice facility and had small stands like high schools.
Must be a luxury to play in beautiful arenas around the NBA then, right?
“It’s nice,” he said, “that fans don’t throw bottles at you.”
The worst thing tossed Ingles' way this year might be that pink princess backpack he got from his teammates.
Even a mature first-year player can't escape some rookie duties.
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