When Quin Snyder was asked about Joe Ingles’ career arc in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s win over the Clippers, it became something of an accidental full-circle moment.
The timing of the question appeared to be innocuous — a simple request to chart the progress of a player in the aftermath of another great game in the midst of an exceptional stretch. But given that it occurred following a victory over the Clippers, the team that famously cut Ingles on the eve of the 2014-15 season, there couldn’t help but be a little extra significance to it.
“He’s grown as a player,” Snyder began simply, before launching into a labyrinthine, detail-filled, Snyderian elaboration.
That much is certainly true.
Doc Rivers, then the Clippers’ coach, has subsequently gone on to publicly lament the decision he made back in the fall of 2014, though at the time it probably didn’t appear as though it would be all that consequential. The Jazz plucked Ingles off the scrap heap, and while he would go on to appear in 79 games for the team (and even start 32 of them), he averaged all of 5.0 points, 2.3 assists, and 2.2 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game, while shooting 41.5% from the field and 35.6% from beyond the arc.
This season, going into the 24-5 Jazz’s rematch against L.A. on Friday, Ingles is averaging 11.8 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in 26.6 minutes, while posting career-best shooting percentages (51.8% from the field, 45.1% from the arc, 88.2% from the stripe).
For most of the season, he’s been a crucial cog in Utah’s much-improved second unit. He’s also made eight starts, though — ably replacing Donovan Mitchell for a pair of games when the All-Star was going through the NBA’s concussion protocol, and beginning the past six as Mike Conley has been recovering from a right hamstring issue.
He’s not merely taking up space and eating up minutes, though. No, the frequently reluctant shooter has been almost … assertive? In those half-a-dozen starts in place of Conley, he’s stepped up his production to help fill the void, averaging 16.7 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds, while shooting 47.5% from 3-point range.
“He jokes about it, we joke about it a little bit now — he’s just not hesitated at any point on a shot,” Snyder noted. “Taking it in transition, taking it off the dribble, he’s always been a great catch-and-shoot guy in the halfcourt. He’s been more aggressive, he’s taken that to heart, and as a result, I would say it adds another dimension to his game.”
After years of causing fans to pull their hair out by passing up open looks to try and set up a teammate, Ingles all of a sudden has had three games of 20-plus points during this starting stretch.
JAZZ AT CLIPPERS
When • Friday, 8 p.m. MST
TV • ATTSN
The Aussie was perhaps at his best (and least recognizable) in the Jazz’s 129-115 victory over Milwaukee a week ago, when he scored Utah’s first three buckets and four of their initial five — all from 3-point range — en route to finishing with a career-high-tying 27 points for the game.
“Joe set the tone, and we followed suit,” Mitchell said that night. “…There were times when Joe’s hitting 3s and I’m just turning to the bench like, ‘Wow!’ You know what I mean?”
Joe Ingles, tone-setter? What is this world coming to?
Though Ingles detests discussing himself in an individual context, he has allowed that the clarity of his role this season he’s allowed him to feel comfortable, and thus to flourish.
He’s not starting unless someone is injured. His minutes will be down slightly from recent seasons unless someone’s in foul trouble. And if those seem like limitations upon his responsibilities, well, his actual on-court role actually reveals quite the opposite, in that he is every bit as empowered as Mitchell and Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson to fire away when he’s got a good look.
“The guys want me to shoot, coach wants me to shoot, so when I’m open, I’ve just got to be aggressive,” Ingles said. “The way we’re playing this year, with a bit more pace and trying to shoot in transition and get those 3s up, and get the rim … it obviously suits my game to get in the paint and create and finish or shoot 3s. Just trying to try to be as aggressive as I can when those moments come up.”
Snyder, as part of his response to that initial question, touched on Ingles’ continued commitment to defense; his development in the pick-and-roll game, both as a passer and now as a finisher, too; his two-man chemistry with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors; his improvement as a finisher around the rim.
He concluded, though, by pointing out that even though the now-33-year-old Ingles arrived in the NBA years later than many prospects, that has never once prompted the forward to view himself as some kind of finished product, as being incapable of adding metaphorical wrinkles to his actual ones.
“I don’t know how old he is right now — I know he’s in his 30s — but he was an older player, comparatively, when he got to the league,” Snyder said. “His commitment to working on his game and improving, I think, is something that … we feel like you can continue to get better, there’s no ceiling on anybody based on their age — and that’s what he’s done.”