Aussies in NBA: Could Joe Ingles be losing minutes?

Joe Ingles has enjoyed an unpromising start to the NBA season. That being, he has looked every bit like the Joe Ingles we know and love.

We have seen glimpses of his methodical playmaking ability, plucky defending and the all-around craftiness which has seen Ingles graduate from European basketball wanderer to NBA veteran.

While you will never confuse Ingles with being the centre of attention, he has been lurking in many a Jazz highlight through the season’s first week. Here is Ingles playing provider for Rodney Hood and the first poster dunk of the campaign.

As for personal offense, here is further proof that Ingles’ old man game is still profound enough to wriggle through opposition defenders.

Yesterday’s defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers saw Ingles play over 20 minutes and expand his role for the first time this season. Now, the lion’s share of these minutes came in a blow-out loss, but it was good seeing Aussie Joe get some good burn for the Jazz.

Through three games, Ingles has averaged a tick over 14 minutes. For reference, he averaged 21 minutes per game during his first season in Utah, and this dropped to 15 last year.

The decline in playing time isn’t a surprise. Utah is deep and competition for minutes is very strong. This is something Ingles admitted in an interview with our Luke Sicari last week.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve been hit by injuries and I’ve probably played more than I anticipated. When [Hayward and Burks] get back, I’m going to do whatever I can to support the team. Whether that’s playing a few minutes, or extended minutes, I’ll just do what I can.

“For me it’s not a worry. I just want to be part of a winning team and a winning team needs to be deep. When everyone is healthy, it’s only going to make our team better.”

The season is still very much in its infancy, meaning it’d be unwise reading too much into anything just yet. Even still, there are a few Ingles related takeaways to be gleaned from the first week of Utah Jazz basketball.

The biggest observation so far, is the nature of his role. With regular starters Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors out with injuries, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw have been forced into the starting line-up. This has allowed Ingles to collect minutes as the backup small forward.

He has played almost exclusively with reserve units, often paired with fellow frontcourt reserve Trey Lyles. The 20-year-old Lyles is someone who will likely prevent Ingles from receiving minutes as a small ball four, being his most advantageous position in the current day NBA.

In his sophomore season, Lyles has athleticism and length that Ingles could only dream of. Ingles has the youngster covered in terms of basketball intelligence and intellect. Unfortunately, doubts should remain as to whether that will be enough to supplant the Kentucky product in the rotation.

Injuries have left a hole in the rotation, and Ingles is just the man to fill it. Especially considering Shelvin Mack is the primary backup point guard over Dante Exum (I’ll leave that rant for another day) and ‘running’ Utah’s offence by dribbling the life out of the basketball.

With Mack’s questionable playmaking skills at the helm, Ingles’ jack of all trades game is required. While great for the short term, the current role Ingles occupies isn’t sustainable if a healthy Jazz roster comes into being.

It must be noted that ‘full health’ and ‘Utah Jazz’ have not been used in the same sentence this decade, as the club appears snakebitten. All the same, should the injury gods finally shine down on Salt Lake City, Ingles could feel the squeeze.

I will admit this is the same concern I’ve had since Ingles arrived in Utah. And guess what? Ingles has remained a key part of Quin Snyder’s rotation despite my misguided scepticism. I have been wrong for two years, and long may it continue.

There is just a clear and present danger to Ingles’ playing time. I mean, here is the projected Jazz rotation at full health.

Starters: George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.

Reserves: Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, Trey Lyles and Joe Ingles.

Each starter is worthy of 30 minutes a night in the NBA. Thrown in 20 minutes each (a conservative estimate) for Exum, Johnson, Lyles and Diaw, and you are left with scraps for the likes of Mack and Exum to fight over. That’s even ignoring a potential return from Alec Burks, something which does remain a massive question mark.

Looking at the Ingles-Jazz marriage solely through the prism of playing time --and how Ingles can maximise his-- this Utah roster might not be a good fit. Johnson hopping into the Hot Tub Time Machine and exploding against Portland on opening night is a perfect illustration of the issue. The Jazz now have reserves capable of such an outburst. This relegates the safe and reliable Ingles to a lesser role.

In addition to Lyles, the likes of Diaw and Johnson almost eliminate any chance of Ingles playing the four. This forces Ingles to defend small forwards, and even bigger guards, at the defensive end, something which could prove problematic. Ingles just doesn’t have the foot speed to defend such players in the NBA anymore.

On Monday morning, the Clippers ran numerous actions for Austin Rivers with the sole intention of attacking Ingles off the dribble. Regrettably, Rivers looked good doing so and was too quick of foot for his opponent. Effort and application are never an issue with Ingles; it’s just the role on offer in Utah that could prove problematic.

With Favors slowly returning to health and Hayward still weeks away, Ingles should remain in the rotation for the time being. He again has the chance to establish himself as a role player who contributes to a winning team, something we flagged as being important during our wish list series.

We wrote back in September that statistical measures will never define Ingles’ role in the Association. This remains the case more than ever. Simply helping Utah survive a difficult early season schedule is the goal for the month of November; doing so could reinforce his value within the Jazz pecking order.

Ingles has been his normal self through pre-season and Utah’s first three games of the regular season. He remains someone who deserves NBA minutes. Whether they exist in Utah, is the question lurking over the horizon.