He can shoot. He can pass. He can defend. To celebrate his birthday, we go inside the numbers that suggest Joe Ingles might be the NBA’s most underrated player.
“Happy where I’m at but not content with just being who I was last year… I’m not really worried about my own individual stats or accolades and whatever I do is to help the team win.”
That was Joe Ingles last week on the ‘Locked On Jazz’ podcast when asked about where he is as a player and where he wants to go this season. It’s the type of selfless and team-first answer we’ve come to expect from the veteran forward who celebrates his 31st birthday on Tuesday.
Although the humble and affable Ingles may be hesitant to glorify his own game, we’ll gladly do it on his behalf. For a player whose nuanced and polished game can sometimes fly under the radar, the numbers help bring to light one of the league’s worst kept secrets:
Joe Ingles might be the NBA’s most under-appreciated star. That’s right: STAR.
In today’s NBA, there’s perhaps no more important offensive skill than shooting. Gone are the days where good teams can get by with one or two shooting specialists. The best teams now place four or even five capable shooters on the floor, bending defenses and forcing players to cover more ground than ever before.
Everyone knows that Ingles can shoot the lights out. That in and of itself is not a ground-breaking revelation.
But would anyone casually refer to him in conversation as the best shooter in the league? Not likely.
Polling NBA fans, the first two names out of everyone’s mouths are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Beyond them, names routinely mentioned as guys you simply can’t leave include Kevin Durant, Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick.
What if Ingles is better than all of them, including the Splash Brothers?
Though he hasn’t led the league in 3-point accuracy, Ingles is the only player to shoot at least 44 percent from beyond the arc in each of the last two seasons. Though admittedly not the off-the-bounce outside threat as some of the game’s best shot makers, Ingles is every bit the shooter in the traditional sense of stretching the floor.
Whenever Curry somehow wiggles free and catches ready to shoot, there’s a consensus feeling of inevitability: everyone in the building and watching on TV just assumes it’s going in. Warriors fans perk up in anticipation just as stomachs drop for opposing fans. At this point, it’s essentially an automatically triggered biological reflex.
Going strictly by the numbers, Ingles should trigger those same involuntary responses.
|Catch-and-shoot FG pct||46.4||43.1|
|No defender within 6 feet||47.5||47.7|
Of course, Ingles is far more than just a shooter. He’s also Utah’s best playmaker even if the basic assist numbers don’t paint him in that light.
That Ingles didn’t lead the team in assists is more a product of his role rather than ability. Ingles is the opportunistic playmaker, passing with a purpose and aggressively looking to create. Over 22 percent of his total passes last season directly led to a shot, significantly higher than Utah’s assist leader Ricky Rubio who clocked in at 17 percent and on par with the likes of Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball and Draymond Green.
Ingles expertly connects the dots in his game, using his own shooting ability to attacking closeouts and create drive and kick opportunities like few others. Ingles passes more often on drives than any other player in the NBA while over 15 percent of his forays into the lane result in an assist, a figure that ranked inside the top 5.
He’s not simply playing hot potato either with the passing a crutch for lack of finishing ability. Ingles shot 49 percent on drives in 2017-18, not far off from Giannis Antetokounmpo and better than the likes of Paul George, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker and John Wall.
Before playing the sample size card, just know that Ingles did all of this while leading Utah in front-court touches per game – in both the regular season and playoffs. So even while Donovan Mitchell’s star ascended, make no mistake that Utah’s offense still flowed through the 6’8” forward, albeit in a subtler manner.
His subtle genius carries over to the other end of the floor where he’s perhaps Utah’s most versatile defender. If Gobert is the anchor and Mitchell/Rubio the tip of the spear, Ingles is the glue that helps Utah keep opponents stuck in a rut.
Just ask Paul George.
In their first round series, George lit up the Jazz when guarded by anyone but Ingles, shooting 52% while scoring over 34 points per 100 possessions according to player tracking data from Second Spectrum. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, George saw far more of Ingles than anyone else and mightily struggled, shooting just 33% and averaging just 22 points per 100 possessions when matched up with the Aussie.
In the next round, Ingles spent as much time matched up defensively on Chris Paul, James Harden and Eric Gordon as he did on Trevor Ariza, showcasing impressive versatility against one of the league’s most dynamic offenses.
While he might not be Kawhi Leonard, he’s no slouch either.
Add it all up – the defense, the shooting, the heady playmaking – and Ingles is pound for pound one of the most impactful players in the entire league. Simply put, good things happen when he’s on the floor.
Real Plus-Minus, which has an offensive and defensive component while also controlling for teammates, estimates the two-way impact that every player has on a per-possession basis. By that measure, Ingles graded out as the 25th-best player in the NBA last season, right on the cusp of All-Star status.
He probably won’t sniff the All-Star festivities in Charlotte this upcoming season. And he probably won’t play a part in any awards chatter either.
But if the Jazz are truly ready to make some noise in the Western Conference, just know that the unsung star not interested in individual accolades will have played a starring role.
It’s time for the rest of the world to take notice.