The Utah Jazz’s offseason mantra has been one focused on internal improvement. Organic growth. Naturally, a lot of that is focused on the young core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Trey Burke1. They are, after all, the keys to the now and the future of the franchise.
What about the team’s oldest player, one Joe Ingles? Can his improvement be a key to the 2015-2016 season?
It was one year ago that the Jazz made a surprising move, cutting swingman Carrick Felix and his guaranteed contract and claiming not just one, but two players off the waiver wire: Jordan Hamilton and Joe Ingles. Hamilton was the more exciting, more enticing and more promising prospect. He was a former first-round draft pick, had three years of league experience, was tall and athletic and had shown some propensity to score at the NBA level.
Most wondered who Ingles was. He was looking to break into the association as a 27-year-old, but had an extensive international pedigree and reputation. He was not the greatest example of death-defying speed or dynamic leaping ability. Ingles had just been cut by the Los Angeles Clippers, a team in nearly desperate need of help at the small forward spot.
Who would have guessed that Hamilton would become merely a footnote for the Jazz, while Ingles would go on to prove himself not only a viable rotation player, but one who became a glue guy for Utah, both on the court and in the locker room? The former was waived after a week, while the latter was an emotional leader for a young team.
While it was a slow start for Ingles, like the rest of the team, he improved as the season moved forward. Over the first few months, he was the epitome of a pass-first player, always looking to set up his teammates. While that added to team’s dynamic, there were times where he passed up good shots. That changed after the All-Star break, much like the team’s fortunes. He took those opened shots and connected on them, adding a much-need perimeter threat to the mix. As a result, Ingles became more of a well-rounded weapon for head coach Quin Snyder. His post-All-Star numbers were solid: 6.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG and 2.0 APG, along with 42.7 percent from 3. His affable nature and witty humor only added to his importance to the team.
So, what can be expected from Ingles in his sophomore campaign? And could he really be an integral factor in the team’s pursuit for a playoff berth?
If the preseason is any indicator, the answer is yes. He has come back with added aggressiveness, looking more actively for his shot. He attempted 4.0 3-pointers per outing, connecting on 37.5 percent. Ingles was nearly 47 percent from the field, fought for rebounds and playing some gritty defense. Hopefully his fine play off the bench will continue on into the regular season.
With Snyder’s plans to operate a number of three-wing lineups, Ingles will be able to display his versatility and court vision. With his size, he could play some small-ball power forward. He could assume some of the point guard responsibilities, which he did a few times in the preseason. Perhaps the strongest aspect of his game is his passing ability. Ingles has an innate talent in finding his teammates and his unselfishness is exactly what any second unit needs. This is essential, as the offensive fire power of the bench may struggle at times.
Ingles is not afraid to crash the boards, which helps from the wing positions. His defense is underrated. Ingles gets physical, plays the passing lanes well and while his overall speed is nothing to marvel over, his has solid lateral movement. Ingles is pesky and can get under his opponent’s skin. If there is a scrum or a loose ball on the court, it can be expected that the Aussie swingman is in the middle of it.
Ingles just has a heady style about him; his basketball IQ is evident. He is a rare bench player who makes those around him better. The offense seems to flow more smoothly when he is in the game. At $2.5 million, Ingles will be a bargain player compared to what he contributes.
Hayward, Burks and Hood will undoubtedly receive the bulk of the playing time. Even so, Ingles and Elijah Millsap will get their chances. It is very clear that Ingles has the trust and confidence of the coaching staff and his teammates. If there is an injury, Ingles has shown that he can step into the starting lineup. In short, he will indeed be a key this season.
While the internal improvement oft discussed will focus on his younger teammates, look for Ingles to assume more of a vital role for the Jazz going forward.