Early in Wednesday night’s game in Houston, the Rockets’ TV broadcast crew chastised a young player for passing up an open 3 and trying to find a better look for a teammate, extolling the virtues of being aggressive.
On the Utah Jazz’s next possession, Joe Ingles took a pass at the top of the arc, fired away, and buried a triple, sending that Rockets crew into a not wholly accurate “teachable moment” mode.
“He is a good example of a guy who does not hesitate. He’s looking to shoot it every time,” they declared non-ironically.
Funny enough, while Ingles has historically driven Jazz fans irate with his habit of not utilizing his 3-point stroke frequently enough, and often passing up good looks in order to find a teammate, the Aussie vet has actually stepped up his production these past three games, as he’s moved into the starting lineup in place of the injured Donovan Mitchell.
In Wednesday’s 112-89 obliteration of the Rockets, the point forward made 7 of 11 shots overall, including 6 of 10 from deep. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal, and — quite improbably — a blocked shot.
In the three games he’s started since Mitchell was ruled out for a week, Ingles has averaged 20.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists, while shooting 58.3% from the field and 56.7% from beyond the arc.
“Any time that certain players are out — be it Donovan or Mike or Fav; J.C. was out for a few games — guys feel that, and they understand that oftentimes they need to be more aggressive,” coach Quin Snyder said afterward.
To his point, this was Ingles’ 17th start of the season, and in those games he’s averaging 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists while shooting 54.8% from the floor and 53.1% from the arc; in his 37 games off the bench, those numbers are 9.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 50.8 FG%, and 46.7 3P%.
Still, in his mind, it’s not as simple as Starting Joe equals Superior Joe. In fact, he drew something of a correlation between Ingles’ career-best 12.4 ppg and 49.4% beyond the arc and the fact that the 33-year-old is only playing 27.2 minutes per game this year — his fewest in the past four seasons.
“If he’s shooting 49% from the 3-point line, that’s a good thing. And I think part of that is Joe’s fresh right now,” Snyder said. “Sometimes if your minutes are more limited, you have less of a tendency to pace yourself. But I don’t think, right now, Joe coming off the bench or starting is really dictating how he’s playing. He’s playing a certain way, regardless of whether he’s starting or finishing or playing in the middle of the game. … And I just want him to play a certain way, and that’s the way that he’s been playing.”
He was certainly playing a certain way against the Rockets.
Ingles set the tone early on both ends, creeping up behind Jae’Sean Tate to swat away a layup attempt from behind in the game’s first minute and a half, then burying that aforementioned triple a minute later. He’d wind up hitting three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone.
For his part, Ingles said the aim for the team is to always try and play the same way, regardless of who’s in or out on any given night.
That’s maybe a little impossible to do when the missing guy is Mitchell, though.
“With a guy of Donovan’s talent and how important to our team he is, we obviously miss him out there. We’ve done a good job this trip of just kind of picking up the pieces a little bit,” Ingles said. “He’s a massive part of what we do — there’s no trying to get around that. But, yeah, I think it’s just that everyone realizes what what he brings to our team and what he does for our team, so we all know we’ve got to step up.
“… No one’s sitting there saying, ‘Hey, it’s on Mike, or it’s on JC, or it’s on me,’ or whoever — whatever name you want to throw out there,” he added. “… We take pride [when] someone’s out and we have to kind of all step up and play better.”
As much as Ingles doesn’t want to take any credit for his increased production in this stretch, though, his teammates have noticed and want him to keep it up.
Mike Conley said the Jazz constantly remind him that he’s one of the best shooters in the world and they trust him to let it fly.
“You know, I was joking with Joe the other day that when I’m out of the game, and I’m not playing, he goes for 30 and 40 points, and has these phenomenal shooting nights, and just looks all-world, and when I come back, he doesn’t shoot it at all,” Conley said with a laugh. “So we made it a point, the last few games and now that we’re playing together, to make sure that he continues to stay aggressive, regardless of who’s on the court. And he’s just done a great job of finding his spots. He’s shooting the ball so well and [is] so confident when he does.
“He’s fun to watch, honestly,” the guard added. “It’s just fun to be a part of the journey with him.”
Then again, it’s not all fun for Ingles.
While he’s consistently said that he’s happy with whatever his role is so long as the Jazz continue to win — they’re 44-15 now — there are a few specific non-result-related reasons he’s hoping Mitchell’s ankle is back to normal sooner rather than later.
“I can’t wait to have him back — that means I get to play three or four extra less minutes, stay fresh,” Ingles said. “And I don’t have to do media! That’s the best part — I don’t have to do this!”