The spotlight is on Joe Ingles this NBA season. Coming off a career-best campaign in the 2017/18 season, the league is paying closer attention to his abilities and the ways in which Ingles can cause damage with the basketball in hand.
There is a sharpened focus, and Ingles feels it.
“The biggest difference from last year is being known a little bit,” Ingles told The Pick and Roll. “In the first couple of years, I could just stand there and get wide open looks but then obviously the more you are around and the more you play, teams scout you.”
Ingles is now established as one of the best shooters in basketball. Since making his NBA debut in 2014, he is one of only five players to have made 500 three-point field goals while shooting at least 40% from behind the arc. The other four - Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick – are NBA royalty when it comes to shooting the basketball. The 31-year-old is now held is such lofty esteem.
“He’s a terrific player,” says Dallas Mavericks head coach, Rick Carlisle. “He is so resourceful, especially with finding crevices to get threes off and then he shoots it at an amazing high rate.”
The resourcefulness Carlisle raises is what makes Ingles such a tough cover. Opposition scouting reports can correctly diagnose that Ingles is a shooting maven, but no theorem can equip opponents for his constant movement and shiftiness on the court.
Despite a greater focus on his talents, Ingles’ outside shooting profile this season is largely analogous with years past. There has been an immaterial reduction in the volume of three-point attempts: 8.6 per 36 minutes, as opposed to 9.0 last season, although Ingles is still generating over five “open” three-point attempts a game, per the NBA’s shot tracking data.
With Ingles utilising more offensive possessions for the Jazz – his usage percentage and touches per game are currently at career-high levels – the league has managed to keep a glass ceiling on his personal damage from behind the arc. With opponents attempting to deny all airspace on the perimeter, clearer opportunities have arisen for Ingles to attack the basket.
Ingles is now taking 36% of his field goal attempts within 10 feet of the rim, up from 24% last season. In raw terms, that only equates to an extra 1.3 shots per game but the impact is noticeable. Much of the uptick is attributable to shots off the dribble, especially when opponents scramble to prevent his outside shot.
“I’m just reading the situations and if [the opponents] are driving out hard, then drive it,” Ingles said. “If they are not, then shoot it. That’s just a game-to-game adjustment with how teams play me.”
While the premise of defenders closing out hard to Ingles is nothing new, it has been more pronounced this season. As a countermeasure, the Australian is generating more of his personal offence closer to the basket. Ingles’ field-goal attempts from driving situations are almost double what they were last season.
Now playing his fifth season under head coach Quin Snyder, Ingles credits the coaching staff for fostering an environment that is conducive for personal development. “It makes it very easy to play basketball when you have a coach like that,” Ingles said of Snyder specifically.
The alteration in his shot distribution is identifiable, although according to Ingles, the modification is merely a function of the added comfort he has within Snyder’s offensive system.
“I’m just playing within our offence as a team," Ingles said. “ The only difference is trying to be aggressive but only within the flow of our offence. If that does end with me shooting it or getting a shot, I’ll take it. But we’ve also got the most unselfish team in the NBA. We’ve got guys who can make plays for everyone else. I’m on the end of a lot of stuff.”
That “stuff” is a bounty of clean looks that come Ingles’ way. Only Eric Gordon has taken more “wide open” three-point attempts (where the closest defender is more six feet or further away) than Ingles since the start of the 2017-18 season. Ingles undeniably benefits from the infrastructure and supporting talent around him. But he is also an essential component of Utah’s success.
“Joe sees the floor very well,” says Rudy Gobert. “He’s able to make the right decision, at the right time, and he’s so dangerous with his shooting that the defence has to adapt. He’s been great at finding open shots for him and his teammates.”
Gobert knows better than most, as Ingles is his second most frequent assist provider behind starting point guard Ricky Rubio.
The Ingles-Gobert relationship blossomed last season as the Australian stepped into a larger ball-handling role. Their symbiotic connection continues to be an effective weapon for the Jazz. Personally for Ingles, Gobert’s presence aids in his quest to find scoring closer to the basket.
On plays like the above, where Ingles turns the corner and has Gobert riding shotgun as his roll man, opposition big men are instantly forced into making a difficult decision. Either step up to Ingles and leave Gobert unencumbered to roll to the rim, or shade back on Gobert and allow Ingles space to drive. This is often an impossible quandary for opponents, especially as Utah floods the court with other established shooters.
“Joe’s floater and finishing deep at the basket has been really good,” Snyder says. “He is making great reads about whether to throw the lob to Rudy, to kick the ball to the corner or to finish. His skill set has improved as he has worked on that.”
Anytime you can shoot the ball like Ingles can, it forces the defence to play you a certain way. It opens up opportunities to drive. As his experience has grown, Ingles is identifying those openings quicker and, more often than not, he subsequently makes the correct read.
“His versatility and ability to shoot the ball makes them hard to guard,” J. B. Bickerstaff, Memphis Grizzles head coach, says of Ingles. “But he isn’t a one trick pony.
“The way they put him in not just pick-and-roll situations. Then the decisions he makes when he is in the paint. He knows when to go and score. He knows when to find the big when your big helps. His offensive versatility makes him difficult to guard.”
Ingles is effective in his unique ways. Long-held quips about his stocky physique and quirky features have now been replaced with a league-wide admiration for his talents. Those within the Jazz franchise can articulate the shifting narrative better than most.
“I always joke that I thought he was a slow old guy when I first saw him at training camp,” Donovan Mitchell said. “But he is slow for a reason; taking his pace and using that to his advantage by lulling the defence to sleep.
“That is something I am trying to get into my game. Being able to slow down, take my time and hesitate, and find ways to get into the paint. Make the right reads and the right passes.”
A commitment to making the right basketball play characterises' Ingles offensive game. Even as he ventures inside the arc more this season, it is done under the perspective of what elevates the Jazz offence. That is a trait Mitchell identifies in his Australian mentor. It is something the NBA sophomore wants to implement into his own arsenal.
“I take a lot from Joe,” Mitchell added. “For me personally he helps a lot. Having someone like Joe for me to watch. I can see what he is doing and be like ‘alright, this is what he is doing to get open’.”
Ingles is seemingly always open. The NBA has caught up to his shooting, so Ingles pivoted and found new ways of hitting the scoreboard. He has become a stronger offensive option for the Jazz, even as he ages into his thirties, and it means the attention Ingles receives from NBA opponents will only continue to grow.