Three things to watch from Joe Ingles in the 2017/18 NBA season

Joe Ingles is suddenly Australia’s highest paid NBA athlete. That is quite the accomplishment for someone who was not on an NBA roster three years ago.

Since being picked up by the Utah Jazz, Ingles has played in 242 out of a possible 246 NBA games. He played the third most minutes for the Jazz last season, putting forth his best ever season as a professional en route to a breakthrough NBA season.

Ingles parlayed that performance into a four-year, $US52 million deal. The Australian was among the first free agents to agree to terms on a deal, and it was an easy decision given he was focused on returning to Utah.

Today, we continue our Aussies in the NBA Wish List series by looking at Ingles, and how he can improve on his best NBA season to date. If you missed it, go and check out our previews of Thon Maker, Ben Simmons and Dante Exum.

1. Playmaking

The Jazz are searching for additional sources of playmaking given the departures of Gordon Hayward and George Hill. While the franchise will hope rising stars like Rodney Hood and Dante Exum can fill the void through natural development, Ingles looks most qualified to serve this role.

Ingles cemented his reputation floor spacer last season (more on this later), but his talents with basketball in hand remain underrated. Good things happen when he initiates the offence.

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His pick and roll opportunities have expanded with every passing season, and Ingles’ flexibility was key in the Jazz sustaining an effective offensive arsenal last year. The Australian was regularly deployed as a floor spacer, who could then attack spread defences in secondary offensive sets. Like this play against the Milwaukee Bucks. With the shot clock under 10, Ingles is swung the ball on the weak side and then initiates a nice pick and roll with Derrick Favors.

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Plays like this were made easier with the presence of Hayward and Hill. Both are elite shooters, with above average passing skills for their position. Hayward ranked first among Jazz players in every vital assist metric (assists, assist points created, potential assists and free throw assists just to name a few key indicators), while Hill ranked third in each of these measures.

Both are now gone and this creates a number of challenges for Jazz head coach Quinn Snyder. It also robs Ingles of a key threat, as he and Hayward developed sublime chemistry, often connecting for trademark lobs.

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65 of Ingles’ 225 assists (29 percent) were to Hayward last season. It’s a shame we won’t be seeing this anymore.

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With his number one running mate gone, Ingles, just like the entire Jazz offence, must develop new ways to attack. More possessions led by the Australian could be a prudent solution. Ingles has the court vision required to be a great distributor, while also possessing elite passing skills.

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There is also great nuance to Ingles’ passing game. He has shown good chemistry with Favors and Gobert, with gorgeous touch passes often utilised to vertically stretch-out the opposition.

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From a local point of view, Ingles has also been involved with many of Exum’s best NBA moments. With Exum looking to attack opposition defences more this season, the talents of his Australian mentor could be of great benefit.

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Ingles’ vision, combined with Exum’s quick slash to the basket, made for an easy two points on the above highlight. It was also on display against Golden State during the Playoffs.

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Ingles has proven he can initiate offense on the NBA level and warrants further opportunities to do so.

2. Withstand a drop in three-point shooting

Ingles’ three point shooting percentage will almost certainly decrease. That isn’t a reflection on anything the big Australian has done this off-season, but rather an ode to history. Only 26 players in NBA history have ever shot the long ball as accurately, across as many attempts, as he did last season.

A deeper dive into Ingles’ shooting metrics reveals that he was placed in the perfect position to succeed. According to NBA.com’s shot tracking measures, 84 percent of his three-point attempts were made with the closest defender being more than four feet away – this represents an ‘open’ shot by NBA standards. Ingles also dominated as a pure ‘catch and shoot’ shooter, with three-quarters of his attempts coming without taking a single dribble.

For a myriad of reasons – regression to the mean, drop in surrounding talent, increased attention from opponents, or even sheer luck - expect his conversion rate to drop. Ingles only made 22 three pointers last season that weren’t assisted. With the likes of Hill, Hayward and Boris Diaw now departed, clean looks will be harder to come by.

Reputations dictate respect in the NBA, and Ingles should notice the difference this season. Expect hard close outs anytime the ball swings his way on the perimeter. While this will limit his ability to launch from the outside, it does present Ingles with an opportunity to attack more off the dribble. As we explored earlier, Ingles has handles that remain underutilised on the NBA level. These can be leveraged to shift his attacking point.

Here is one such example against the Dallas Mavericks, where Seth Curry expertly runs Ingles off the three-point line.

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The South Australian native quickly attacks off the dribble and frees for a clean mid range jumper. Ingles has sneaky length, something he leverages from a quick dribble in this example, to shoot over a smaller defender.

This is just one simple example of how Ingles can use his jack-of-all-trades skill set. Showing off similar levels of nuance will be needed this season.

Ingles’ reputation as a long-range sniper will still be important for a Jazz offence that lacks outside shooting threats. Opponents can no longer leave Ingles alone on the outside, and this gravity will be vital whenever Ricky Rubio shares the court with a traditional big man like Gobert or Favors.

3. Maintain effective defence

Ingles’ defence has also improved drastically since making his NBA debut. He will never be the fastest or the most athletic player on the court, but he possesses stellar basketball intelligence and can defend almost anyone.

Ingles is especially useful as a help defender, where his smarts can diagnose opposition sets and create easy transition opportunities for the Jazz.

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One improvement area comes in the form of defending speedy guards. At times, he can be susceptible when defending in space.

There was one game last season, against the Los Angeles Clippers, where the Clippers ran numerous actions for Austin Rivers, with the sole intention of attacking Ingles off the dribble. Rivers enjoyed great success doing so and was too quick of foot for his opponent.

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Effort and application were never an issue for Ingles, and in his defence, his defensive output grew as the season progressed. Ingles’ defence was instrumental in Utah’s series win over the Clippers, with Snyder smartly deploying the Australian against J.J. Redick.

Ingles is much better suited for bigger guards, with more restrictive handles. As he ages, Ingles will further struggle against speed and will need the benefit of advantageous defensive match-ups.

In the coming season, the absence of Hayward and Diaw will create more front court minutes. This should facilitate favourable defensive assignments against opponents less skilled at attacking off the dribble.