SALT LAKE CITY — Late Saturday evening, the Utah Jazz Twitter account asked followers: “What adjective best describes Joe Ingles’ game?”
The answers piled in: Saucy. Wondrous. Crafty. Silky. Deceiving. Wholesome.
How about surprising? Specifically, as of late, his surprising ability as ball-handler and distributor.
During last week’s 3-1 record, Ingles — my Jazz MVP of the week — got his shot back as he averaged 16 points while shooting 60 percent from three, but he also kept on dishing and diming with six assists per game. Against Chicago on Saturday night, in only 27 minutes, Ingles gave out five assists (the two previous games it was seven apiece). When Ingles is open and knocking down threes, the Jazz are tough to beat. When he is doing that, plus playmaking? It’s an entirely new ballgame.
The Jazz’s margin of victory last week was comfortable to say the least: 21 over Washington, 21 over New York, and 31 over Chicago on Saturday night. The schedule this week could yield similar results with a matchup with 17-57 Phoenix, 31-41 Los Angeles Lakers, and 30-44 Washington. All games are back in Salt Lake, after spending the week on the East Coast. As the Jazz battle for playoff positioning, you can bet the team knows the importance of the moments at hand. Lucky for them, they have a 6-foot-8 Australian with the ball in his hands quite often.
Injuries at the point guard position have forced the Jazz to let Ingles bring the ball up, but the ball has continued to stay in his hands even after the point guards have returned because of his elusive and effective play as distributor. His chemistry with the bigs on pick-and-rolls is unmatched, while his ability to swing out of the corner is a necessity for an offense that struggles at times.
Coach Quin Snyder was asked by ESPN about Ingles and his ballhandling last week and said, "There was a point for about a month where we were thin at the point guard — Ricky (Rubio), Raul (Neto) and Dante (Exum) were out — and we asked Joe to carry a big load to handle the ball, so I think he's been able to respond with whatever's been asked of him."
Snyder’s answer to the Jazz Twitter account? Adaptable. Flexible. Versatile.
Coach’s assessment words characterize Ingles perfectly. As a glue guy, role play, ultimate teammate — whatever you want to label him — he plays ball the right way and does what is asked of him. For someone labeled as Slow-Mo-Joe, he is surprisingly good at it all, too.
"Sometimes when we talk about 'glue' (guys), the way that Joe plays I think allows those things to happen," Snyder says. "When you think of his playmaking; that helps make people better, that connects him more to that analogy.”
While Rubio is back in the lineup shepherding the offense and the Jazz employ a system that relies on movement, there still must be a correlation in how the Jazz have regained offensive rhythm after letting Ingles handle the ball a bit more. Prior to the All-Star game, the Jazz had the 20th best offensive rating, 108. Since the break, while Ingles has averaged seven assists a game, the Jazz have the fifth best rating, 113. Donovan Mitchell’s scoring efficiency has increased during that span with less of a playmaking burden, and both bigs, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, are in the top 15 of dunks made due to all the open looks they receive (Gobert is first with 269). It all connects.
This season alone, Ingles is posting career highs in points, assists, steals, field goals, free throws, assist percentage, usage rate, and free throw rate. Out of everyone on the team who has played at least 1,000 minutes, it’s Ingles who reigns supreme with a +7.3 on-court rating per 100 possessions. The anchor, Gobert, is second at +5.8.5 comments on this story
Looking specifically at his assist numbers, they’ve increased each month of the season as he started handling the ball more and then became better at seeing the floor. He is averaging 5.5 dimes a game this year, a career high and second-best on the team behind Rubio, but that number has climbed to seven a game post-All-Star break. Perhaps more impressively is that Ingles is tied with Rubio with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover rate, second only to Raul Neto in limited minutes.
Oh, and don’t forget that Ingles is doing this on a nightly basis as he’s played every game of the season thus far, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Currently, Ingles leads the NBA in consecutive games played (293), where he hasn’t missed a game since Dec. 16, 2015. Ingles has played 397 of a possible 401 games while tenured in a Jazz uniform.
So, what word do you want to use to characterize Ingles and his season? Perhaps we should just stick to Jinglin’.