From zero to hero: Woj Pod reveals Joe Ingles' NBA transformation

For Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles, every ounce of the respect he now enjoys, had to be earned through hard work. In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the Woj Pod, Ingles reveals the hard work it has taken to transition from being just another foreign shooter, into one of the most valuable starting role players in the NBA.

The 31-year-old Australian knows that he doesn’t look like your typical über NBA athlete; he’s often colourfully reminded of that fact by some observant Twitter users. “I've got a receding hairline, I'm slow and I'm probably not the most jacked up with abs and all that,” said Ingles matter-of-factly. “But I'm still going to beat you one-on-one,” he wryly added.

The basketball world now knows Ingles as a fearless and skilled competitor. A man unafraid to blow the now famous ‘kiss of death’ into the crowd after a game winner in Detroit a few days ago.

A man who now persistently gets into the heads of some of the NBA’s best players with his laconic tongue, without a single shred of remorse.

However, his signature laid-back confidence took some time to bubble to the surface.

Now into his fifth NBA season, Ingles is widely recognised as one of the league’s most dangerous long-range shooters and one of its craftiest perimeter defenders. Looking back to five years ago, when he first suited up for the Jazz, the NBA’s perception of Ingles was very different.

During his formative NBA years, Ingles was viewed as unremarkable roster filler. He was constantly singled out defensively. With his unassuming appearance he was perceived by the opposition as the Jazz’s slow and unathletic weak link. “When I was on the court in the first couple of years, every time we would switch… pick and rolls, it was like [my opponent] would look at me and back up, and kind of wave their hand and clear everyone out and go one-on-one. And this was literally every possession.”

The challenges Ingles had to overcome in his early years weren’t just limited to the defensive end. Teams gave him a wide berth when he had the ball in his hands, and their willingness to give him open shots began to get in his head and frustrate him. “In the first few years I would get a ton of wide-open shots. I would get pick and rolls and [defenders] would go under every time. It was difficult, because when teams keep going under it’s harder than you think.”

“That [led to] me sitting down with Coach [Snyder] and being like, ‘what do I need to do to stay on the court?’, and it was obviously defensively to do what I need to do, and help the team offensively. [As well as] finding ways defensively to control my man and stay in front of them, and I was able to do that.”

Flash forward to today, and the treatment Ingles receives --compared to the early days-- is night and day. Far from giving him space, forfeiting an open look from three is now the last thing opposition teams want to concede to Jinglin’ Joe Ingles. In order to stay one step ahead of those pesky defenders, Ingles constantly reassesses and reshapes his game, a burden that comes with being a respected offensive threat.

“Last year I didn’t get as many open looks, I felt like someone was always really close to me. So I figured out I was able to penetrate a bit more. People were going over on all my pick and rolls so [I was] like ‘I can get down the lane more, I’ve now got to work out how to finish’.”

The tweaks to his game paid off. Last season was the best of Ingles’ basketball life, with career highs in nearly every major statistical category. As a result, this season Ingles is being subjected to an even more physical brand of defence, the kind that is dished out to shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Space is now a luxury he rarely receives.

“There have been games where I’ve had someone touching me…and [now] I know why Steph and these guys get frustrated because it’s really annoying! It’s taken me 40-something games to really figure out how I can still be effective offensively without having so much space and time.

“I think the last couple of years have been more eye-opening, and it’s obviously made me better to because I’ve had to look at other ways of getting open and be effective playing through the contact.”

Ingles now has a new appreciation for the incredible skill behind those players that are subjected to far more intense defensive scrutiny, than he gets. “It makes you respect those superstars. The amount of defensive pressure they get and they’re still able to, like what James Harden is doing, [score] 50 or 40 point a night. Before I came over [to America] I was like, ‘well yeah, he has the ball and he shoots thirty-five shots, of course’. But when you get in it… it’s really impressive.”

The laidback Australian forward is on track to continue his yearly statistical improvement. Although his shooting accuracy has taken a hit this season, especially from beyond the arc, he is still scoring 11.7 ppg, a fraction up from last year’s personal best of 11.5 ppg.

All the evidence suggests that Ingles still has plenty of years left in the tank. Nevertheless, towards the end of his interview with Adrian Wojnarowski, Ingles leaves no doubt that when retirement does eventually come, Australia will be his home.

“As much as I love America for what it has given me and my family, I won’t live here long-term when I retire,” Ingles said.

The South Australian was quick to float the idea of a management role in the NBL. “I feel like I can watch a game and know a good player, and I feel like I could translate that to drafting, or whatever it is. That excites me, I think it’s something I would enjoy doing, picking a team and putting a team together, and I guess seeing if I’d be any good at it or not,” Ingles said with a laugh. “But it would be in Australia.”

Until his homecoming, we should all savour watching the man from Happy Valley enjoying the bright lights, and ruffling some feathers while he does it.