Watch a Jazz game with a 10-year-old, as I often do, and they can be uncomfortably honest.
“THAT guy is an NBA player?” my son asked a few weeks ago.
That guy, is, of course, Joe Ingles.
Ingles just doesn’t look like a professional athlete. Of course he’s tall, 6’ 8’’, but he isn’t particularly muscled or quick or a great leaper. The main thing you ever seem him do well is pass, but he’s not Chris Paul penetrating and dishing by any stretch.
Look beyond what a 10-year-old sees, and Ingles’ 2014-15 season remains surprising. Ingles joined the team just two days before the season started. Many of us thus assumed that his role was to be a steadying influence on his compatriot Dante Exum — but not really to play.
I figured Australians were like missionaries: Better to pair them up so they don’t go off alone and get in trouble.
But, then, just two days after Ingles was signed, he appeared in the team’s season opener against the Rockets. He’s played every game since, and is averaging 17 minutes per game. Since fellow wing Rodney Hood has been injured, his role has grown: He’s averaging over 22 minutes the past five games.
Ingles has played the eighth most minutes on the team, behind the starting five, Trevor Booker and Dante Exum. He’s played more than Rudy Gobert. He’s clearly part of their nine-man rotation, which doesn’t even include Steve Novak or Jeremy Evans, as some fans might have expected.
But is he a valuable contributor? What does he add to the team? Should Jazz fans be pleased with the surprising addition of the Aussie wing – or dismayed that he’s playing consistent minutes?
Before we try to answer those questions, can we talk about nicknames? Salt City Hoops’ managing editor Andy Larsen has given Ingles one: Jingles. Hmmmmm.
Inspired by my first thought when I read of the then-unknown-to-me Australian – that due to his last name he must be from Spain or Latin America – I’ve decided we should call him……José English.
Let’s start with the numbers. At a quick glance, frankly, they’re bad.
Ingles has a PER of 7.9. It’s the worst of all 13 Jazzmen who have played for the team this year. (Reminder: a PER of 15 is considered league average.)
To put Ingles’ performance so far in comparison, check out the list of the only Jazz regulars (500+ minutes) from the past five years who have finished with a PER of under 10:
Shudder. Not a list anyone wants to join.
Why are Ingles’ numbers so low?
First of all, Ingles hardly scores. And I mean hardly. He averages 5.5 points per 36 minutes, a staggeringly low figure. It’s the single lowest figure of any NBA regular this year, according to Basketball Reference.
Why does he score so little? Is he a historically poor shooter? His percentages aren’t great: FG (.361), 3-PT (.310) but there are certainly several dozen other NBA bench players who sport similarly mediocre numbers.
No, what makes Ingles’ offensive production historical is his sheer lack of shots from the field. He’s averaging 5.4 per 36 minutes. You can find other NBA players who have shot so rarely, but nearly all of them were big men renowned for their rebounding and defense. Think Ben Wallace, or Dennis Rodman, or Reggie Evans. A few were point guards who can dish and play D but who didn’t like to shoot. Think Earl Watson and Chris Duhon.
Is Ingles a hustler who grabs every rebound? Nope. He’s averaging 3.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. His rebound rate is 59th out of 63 qualifying NBA small forwards.
How about assists, the category where Ingles looks the best? He is, certainly, a willing and steady passer. His best NBA moments, undoubtedly, are the in-bounds passes he threw to start the Jazz’ most memorable two plays this season: Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke’s buzzer-beating winners against the Cavaliers and Knicks.
Ingles is, in fact, a solid passer for a small forward. He’s averaging 3.7 assists per 36 minutes, which is OK but not spectacular. However, by the Assist Ratio stat developed by John Hollinger and available on ESPN.com, Ingles has the single highest mark of any small forward, ahead of notably good passers like LeBron James and Andre Iguodala.
If you look instead at the Assist Percentage stat available on Basketball Reference, Ingles doesn’t perform as well, ranking above average for a wing, but nowhere near the top (LeBron easily leads the field.)1
So, to sum, Ingles barely scores or rebounds, but is a fine distributor of the ball.
What about defense? Here, of course, the numbers get trickier. Our data on what makes a positive defender are improving, but not as close to accurate as they are for offensive numbers.
From the eye test, Ingles doesn’t leap off the screen as a physically gifted defender – he’s not particularly long-armed or quick – but he does seem to consistently be in the right place. He’s not easily fooled or often caught badly out of position.
Let’s check out the data available on 82games.com, which includes a stat on how a player’s production compares to his opponent – the guy he’s guarding. And that stat loves Ingles’ D. Let’s go ahead and look at the data for the nine Jazzmen getting regular minutes:
Lots of interesting nuggets in there, but let’s focus in on Ingles. Yes, he’s the least productive Jazz player on offense, but he’s also by far their best defender – in terms of limiting his opponents’ production. So much so, that he pencils out as just below average, overall. And, thus, his “net production” makes him a middle-of the pack Jazzman, despite the utter lack of scoring or rebounding.
82 games has another set of interesting stats, which allow us to see which team lineups far best. Simply put, the numbers answer the question: Does any given combo of five players outscore their opponents – or get outscored?
We’ll look at the three lineups that Ingles has played the most in, and for comparison’s sake, the Jazz two most common lineups.
Again, we see a pattern: The Jazz tend to score less but allow fewer points with Ingles on the floor. Now, two of the three lineups that Ingles has played the most with also include Gobert, already considered a very good defender, so separating out the Aussie’s individual contribution is tricky, especially given how few minutes he’s played.
As with all articles you read this time of the year, small sample size warnings apply. The Jazz success of defense with Ingles on the floor may be because the Aussie is genuinely a plus wing defender – or because he’s just been lucky to guard non-shooters or catch a few guys on off nights.
However, with that said, even if his defense and passing are for real, it’s hard to imagine Ingles remaining a viable bench player unless he starts to shoot and score more. He’s no Ben Wallace or Dennis Rodman, and even if he is a savvy on-ball defender and an unusually good passer, that simply may not be enough to justify 15-20 minutes a game in today’s spread-the-floor NBA.
José English? Vamos a ver.