SC7: The Still-Somehow-Criminally-Underestimated Joe Ingles + Six Other Jazz Topics

February 16th, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

The Jazz’s Joe Ingles keeps Terry Stotts entertained. (Bruce Ely via nba.com/blazers)

Whew, catch your breath.

The All-Star break finally arrived, a good chance for NBA players and fans to relax a for a few days before what will undoubtedly be an absurdly entertaining stretch run.

The Utah Jazz, despite reeling off 11 wins in a row heading into the break, probably need the breather as much as anybody. They have two point guards they’re trying to get healthy and a newly acquired player who gets to spend some time with Quin Snyder’s playbook. Just as importantly, they get a break from the day-to-day grind of games, flights and preparation. Just as 82 games of fighting through screens and scrapping for position takes a toll on the body, the interminable process of mental preparation for one type of challenge after another has the ability to fatigue the mind.

After their week off, Utah will come back to see just how far they can extend this best-in-a-decade win streak. While we wait for that to happen, let’s recap the week with our usual look around the salient stories, stats and performances from the last 168 hours in Jazzland.

 

 

A quick(ish) exploration of a prominent theme from the week or the current state of Utah Jazz basketball.

 

The Jazz are rolling, and it’s both instinctual and factual to point to Rudy Gobert’s return, Ricky Rubio’s hot shooting and Donovan Mitchell’s surreal scoring knack. But there are other protagonists in this story, including the guy who for the last 11 games trails only Mitchell in points scored, trails only Gobert in minutes played, and trails only Rubio in assists. And he trails nary a soul in triples or three-point percentage.

Joe Ingles is quietly enjoying his best scoring stretch ever. 

OK, “quietly” isn’t the right word. The chatty Ingles is hardly ever quiet, constantly needling opponents, lobbying refs and even joking with opposing coaches. He is often the biggest personality on the court, despite his rather low-key delivery in most other contexts. But quiet or not, Slo-Mo Joe is once again doing more to power the Jazz than people around the NBA community may even realize.

The underrated/overrated part of the basketball discussion is always a little dicey, and we’re talking about a guy who was recently referred to as “Aussie Curry” after all. Indeed, there are corners of the internet where folks underrate and overrate nearly any player, so keeping track of whose stock is where is a vain and, frankly, pointless exercise.

But Ingles remains perplexingly misunderstood even by people who ostensibly know the game. It’s almost a nightly occurrence that an opponent’s broadcaster declares confidently that the wry forward is “just a shooter” and then watches as Ingles carves up the defense with incisive passes and a deceptive craftiness on drives.

It’s almost a nightly occurrence that a Jazz foe licks his chops after getting Ingles switched onto him, only to be stonewalled by his good lateral movement or have the ball knocked away by the lanky forward’s long arms.

Or here’s the most confounding one — there are still NBA teams, in February 2018, who are sending defenders under on ball screens set to free this 45 percent three point shooter.

Teams continue to perpetually under-prepare for the litany of ways Ingles can hurt them. And the result is that he is having arguably the best stretch of his career. He is sporting a ridiculous 71.5 percent true shooting figure during the streak, and his net rating is plus-21.7. In the last month, he matched his career high in points before proceeding to set a new one — twice. He has had a pair of games with six threes (also a career best), and especially since a hip injury sidelined Rubio, he has also been running the offense more than ever.

Joe’s increased ability to attack indecision out of the pick-and-roll has made him more of a driving threat than ever. As a result, he’s less dependent on the long two than he’s ever been: two-point shots outside 10 feet now make up just 7.8 percent of his shot profile, down from nearly 13 percent the past two campaigns and almost 22 percent in his debut season. He has developed a symbiosis with his two primary roll men, Gobert and Derrick Favors. When he and the latter teamed up on left angle pick-and-rolls against San Antonio, the Spurs just had no answer. Against Charlotte, the Hornets opted to stay attached to the roller and concede jogging layups to Jingles. 

When he’s not slicing to the hoop or drilling threes, he’s busy surprising opponents with elite defensive smarts. He ranks in the 81st percentile for guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler, and one of every five such plays with Joe as the primary defender results in the Jazz recovering the ball off a turnover. Sometimes those are Ingles’ steals directly, and other times his 6’8″ frame and long arms impede the ball handler’s vision and prompt an errant pass. 

He does get beat occasionally, and he’s pretty average when guarding isolation plays. But he almost never had boneheaded defensive moments. If he gets beats, it’s usually because he made a decision within the team offense. With Gobert anchoring the D, the Jazz will have a chance almost any night that their other guys stay within a scheme. 

This exact version of Ingles (16-3-4 with elite shooting and solid D) may not last 24 more games, but the value he offers in every category of the game is clear. Ingles is a difference-maker, a multi-faceted role player who has every bit as much to do with the Jazz’s current tear as anybody.

 

 

Words from a Jazz player or coach about a relevant or timely topic.

 

“He just asked me, ‘Do you want to go in or do you want to leave the team as it is right now?’ And Fav(ors) was playing great and I just trusted Fav. I just went back to the bench and I said, ‘Let’s go, let’s get a win.’ And Fav did a great job. He came up big time at the end, and you know, that’s the strength of our team. We’ve got guys that really care about the team.”

– Gobert, via the Tribune’s Kyle Goon, following the Jazz’s win over San Antonio

 

The word I keep using to describe Utah’s current 11-game winning streak is “egoless.” The Jazz are playing guys who enjoy making the right play for the team, and the on-court chemistry during this stretch has been the obvious catalyst to their success. Jazz players frequently pass up good shots to set up better ones, they help each other on defense, and they brilliantly time their symphony of motion and passing.

But if you need more proof of their culture of selflessness, look no further than the All-NBA big man who walked back to the bench to watch his teammate continue to decimate the Spurs’ pick-and-roll coverage.

Favors is doing 13 & 91 during the streak, and he has played superb defense. He’s another undersung component of Utah’s turnaround. 

 

 

Stats and figures that help tell prominent stories from the week.

 

97.7

 

The Jazz’s DRating since January 24 is astonishing, 2.3 points per 100 possessions better than the second best team over that span. Only two Jazz players have an individual DRtg during the streak that’s not better than league average: Rodney Hood, who’s no longer on the team, and Erik McCree, who saw three minutes of garbage-time action.

+4, +4, +9

This week featured Jae Crowder’s first three games as a Jazz man, and the combo forward has had an immediately impact. The Jazz have won Crowder’s minutes in all three games, including a road win at Portland and a date with the Spurs. He’s average 14.7 points and 5.0 rebounds since switching jerseys, and is talking and acting like a man with a new lease on life. Make sure you read Clint Johnson’s great analysis of the Crowder trade and what Utah hoped to accomplish by getting him.

 

 

A quick dissection of an awesome bit of Jazz offense from the week.

 

In a week when the Jazz dropped 429 points on nearly 160 buckets, there were a lot of options to choose from for our weekly look at a sweet Jazz score.

But long-time readers know that I have a soft spot for blind pig action AND for big-to-big passing. So obviously any play that combined those two elements in about a three-second span was going to catch my attention.

When Kemba Walker tries to cut off a very common pass, the Jazz immediately deploy the counter to such a hard overplay with some “blind pig.” That’s the term for the action where Favors gets the ball up high and immediately drops it to a guard flashing backdoor. The beauty of bling pig is that it forces Favors’ man to help, because Walker is already a couple of steps behind Rubio before he runs into the Favors backscreen, so ex Jazzman Marvin Williams has to slide over. Now the aggressive Rubio has the attention of two defenders.

From there, Utah treats this like basic pick-and-roll. Favors dives like he would off of any high screening action, and since Rubio is occupying two men, Favors is diving into completely empty real estate. By the time Rubio flings this pass to Favors, Dwight Howard has no choice but to help.

That’s where the awesome big-to-big passing comes in. Gobert is tucked away in a spot the Jazz call the “dunker,” so he’s just two big strides away from the basket. Favors just taps the ball down to him for the reverse layup.

Nothing here is a set design, either. This is just the Jazz responding to the choices the defense makes, and it all happens before the shot clock was even half gone. (Another fun note: as we saw in a January play, Ingles sees what’s coming far in advance, and he actually starts heading back to the defensive end as Favors is receiving the pass. Jingles actually does this quite a bit, and it’s hilariously bold.)

 

 

Doling out credit for Jazz wins, one imaginary Spalding at a time.

 

The Game Ball department has been working late nights to keep up with all this winning the Jazz are doing. For the second straight week, we have four hunks of leather to distribute.

 

Jazz 106, Hornets 94: Joe Ingles

 

We’re used to seeing Jingles can threes with nonchalance and making smart plays with the ball. But the Aussie forward treated us to something new on Friday: a career-high 23 points, scored mostly on drives. Ingles scored a dozen in the paint, and also made sure to tell Hornets center Dwight Howard all about it. He also had five boards and five dimes, and a game-best plus-30. Donovan Mitchell turned it on late to score 25, and Gobert had 20 & 11.

 

Jazz 115, Blazers 96: Rudy Gobert

 

Four guys scored more than Gobert, including Joe Ingles’ second straight career-high game (24 points) and a nice introduction to Crowder (15-5-3). Two guys matched Gobert’s 11 rebounds, including Royce O’Neale who had a superb all-around night and a team-high plus-28 despite not scoring much. Yet Rudy still got this one comfortably. The Blazers were visibly afraid of Gobert. Utah took control with a 24-5 run at the start of the third quarter, and during that time there were multiple moments where a driver in a black and red jersey U-turned right out of the paint when they saw Stifle down there. Throughout the game, Gobert made defensive plays that very few dudes are even capable of, Rendered Jusuf Nurkic a complete non-factor (Nurk also left the game early), and scored a dozen to boot.

Jazz 101, Spurs 99: Derrick Favors

 

 

Fav’s 8-point, 4-rebound fourth quarter forced Quin Snyder to call Gobert back from the scorer’s table and became the story of the night. But this isn’t purely a narrative selection — Fav was also one of the most valuable pieces in the Jazz’s tenth straight win. He had 19 points on just nine shots, he played solid defense inside and out in space, and his late block on Manu Ginobili all but sealed the game. He and Mitchell (who had 25 after a cold shooting start) combined to score 19 of the Jazz’s final 22 points. Royce O’Neale was also elemental, including with that big final defensive stand.

Jazz 107, Grizzlies 97: Royce O’Neale

 

Twitter votes were cast for six different players, plus Snyder and Dennis Lindsey. Whenever it’s that wide open, I figure it’s a good night to spread the love around and recognize someone new. Jae Crowder was one option: another 15 point outing, which included six straight points that broke a 77-all tie in Utah’s favor and another pair of consecutive late buckets to put the game on ice. But O’Neale is overdue. He has played spectacular defense lately and keeps pushing his career high up. This time it was a 19-point effort, but we’ll remember this game as much for his side battles with the very talkative Devin Booker as for anything else. Aside from Royce and Jae, Mitchell (27-4-7 plus the twisting, game-sealing three), Favors (18 & 12) and Gobert (14 & 17) were the other obvious candidates.

 

Keeping track of Utah’s playoff chances

OK, it’s All-Star weekend, officially time to bring out the playoff charts once again. These will start to get more detailed as the number of remaining games drops for these teams, but to start, here’s a macro look at the six teams who hit the break with 26 to 28 losses.

Six teams, 2 apart in the L column

This is going to be wild. Just out of frame are the 24-loss Spurs and the 25-loss Wolves. Three through 10 in the West could wind up a complicated jumble of tiebreakers and razor thin margins.

The Jazz have the obvious schedule advantage, but that only matters to the degree that it results in wins for Utah and losses for their Western peers. This week was a perfect example of that: Utah took care of business, but still find themselves looking up at nine teams because Portland beat the Warriors, Denver routed the Spurs, the Thunder came back to win in Memphis, etc.

 

Because, at the end of the day, this should be fun.

 

OK, enough serious stuff. Enjoy the break, and don’t miss the chance to cheer on the rook. The NBA is having a Mitchell moment, and his involvement this weekend will only help to increase the profile of this budding star. He’ll participate in Friday’s showcase of young talent and in Saturday’s dunk contest.

Mitchell will represent the Jazz twice at All-Star Weekend

 

 

Salt City Seven 2017-18 Archive

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *