The Triple Team: After Joe Ingles’ knee injury and a 4-12 January, where do the Jazz go from here?

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 126-106 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Joe Ingles’ knee injury, and what it means

Joe Ingles suffered a serious knee injury in the second quarter of tonight’s game. If you are the type of person that does not want to watch serious knee injuries, don’t watch this video:

For those of you who didn’t watch the video, it looks like a serious knee injury. If you did, you know that it looks like a serious knee injury. It’s the kind of hard-plant-on-a-drive knee explosion that we’ve seen take countless knee ligaments during the entire history of the NBA.

Furthermore, we know that doctors examined Ingles’ knee, and found strong evidence for a serious knee injury. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported, “an initial examination fueled considerable concern of a serious knee injury.” There exists something called the “Lachman Test” where doctors can essentially try to pull your leg in a way it’s not able to be pulled if you have a normal ACL. If your leg moves... you have a torn ACL, a serious knee injury indeed. False positive rates for the Lachman test are below 5%.

I suppose best case scenario is that Ingles’ serious knee injury is not a torn ACL and is instead a torn MCL, which there’s also a test for. That injury would take less time to return from — and still would mean Ingles is out for at least six weeks, and probably well more. Most of you know the timeline for ACL recovery: Ingles would miss the rest of this year and likely some of next year, too.

This sucks. Joe Ingles is one of the coolest players in recent Jazz history. He has a very silly shooting stroke that he used to be one of the best shooters alive, and I think he fooled more big men with the pass fake than anyone in the NBA in the last four seasons. He consistently just annoyed everyone on court in a highly entertaining way, outplayed Paul George in a playoff series once, and made the most disrespectful shot I’ve ever seen live.

He also, clearly, had lost a step before the injury; you can’t imagine a serious knee injury will help. His contract with the Jazz expires at the end of the season, and it’s not at all clear what happens next. Do the Jazz re-sign him on a smaller deal? Does he go to another franchise? I really don’t know.

Before this, I had put Ingles in some trade ideas, but those ideas only really made sense for teams that could use Ingles’ ballhandling and shooting this season. Maybe the Jazz could use his contract to get a player back, but that player isn’t going to be a good one unless the Jazz add value to the equation. The Jazz can no longer apply for a Disabled Player Exception to get a replacement player at half of Ingles’ salary — that window ended on January 15.

His 25 minutes per night now that will have to be distributed elsewhere. Danuel House — still on a 10 day, but likely to be signed at some point for the rest of the year — is the most likely candidate to get most of them. Eric Paschall could too.

Regardless, his loss really, really matters. Thanks to the injury’s timing, it significantly hurts the Jazz’s depth for the rest of the season.

2. Things we’ve learned while Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have been out

This game was pretty clearly going to be a loss as soon as we knew that Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were going to be out again — which is a distressing state of affairs. But without those two guys, they’re just asking everyone to do too much in their roles, and I don’t need to show you video for you to understand that. Watching Jazz games recently has been like asking the heaviest guy you know to run on a treadmill: sure, he can do it for a little while, but he’s not going to look as good as the other fit guys on the treadmills next to him. Later, at some point, he’s going to collapse.

What have we learned in particular?

• Hassan Whiteside can’t be asked to start. He’s just not good enough at guarding the variety of actions that he’ll see over the course of many NBA minutes. Honestly, I thought he tried reasonably hard tonight, and still this happened:

In the playoffs, Snyder may well have to abandon the Conley/Gobert bench lineups that work so well, just because Whiteside vs. starting opponent playoff guards and bigs is going to be a mismatch.

• Eric Paschall’s 3-ball looks to have legitimately improved: he’s made 57% of them over the last five games. Obviously, that’s not a huge sample size, but is a good sign for avoiding sub-30% rates in the future. He also is a tenacious individual defender: the Jazz can generally switch 1-5 while Paschall’s out there at center, and he’ll do a good job on the mismatch.

Unfortunately, he’s been disappointing from a team defense perspective, where rim protection and other kinds of help defense have been unreliable. His rebounding also isn’t great: he’s only 6-6!

• ‘Dok ain’t it either.

• Rudy Gay isn’t exactly not it, but he’s just helping way less than the Jazz hoped. The small-ball Gay at center look has been outscored by 14 points per 100 possessions this season. It isn’t exactly likely to strike fear into the Reggie Jackson/Terrance Mann lineups of the world, let alone the better small ball looks the Jazz may run into in the latter stages of the playoffs. He’s a small part of the offense, and when he does shoot, most of the time it just kind of seems random, rather than as the result of a good execution.

He’s not a problem, but he’s not the solution.

• Jordan Clarkson still isn’t out of his rut, and we’re now to the point where he has been in the rut longer than he was out of the rut. Truthfully, the only version of Clarkson’s offense that really helps this team more than his defense hurts it requires not just non-rut conditions but quite smooth new-layer-of-asphalt conditions — you know, like the ones Clarkson traveled in at the first three months of last season.

• Royce O’Neale is playing perhaps the worst defense of his career, I’m afraid. He’s gotten better offensively this season — at least in efficiency — and still uses fewer possessions than anyone in the league, even when his team needs him to be more aggressive.

• Bojan Bogdanovic actually has shot under 40% from the field and 30% from the 3-point line over the last five games, he has the team’s lowest plus-minus. I think this is essentially that he’s being asked to be a No. 1 scorer when he really can’t do that, especially when he’s not really getting great screens. The defense hasn’t been sparkling, either.

• Danuel House can help defensively. This thread by Dan Clayton broke it all down.

• Trent Forrest had some of the best games of his young career. And yet, when good defensive teams ignore his shot, the Jazz are in deep trouble.

• Jared Butler and Elijah Hughes aren’t the answer to the Jazz’s woes in January 2022. They may be in the future. But they’re not now.

• Mike Conley’s really good, but in the world in which the Jazz are asking him to play under 30 minutes per night, he can’t do it himself like he used to.

3. On a disappointing January

The Jazz finished 4-12 in the month of January. The last time that the Jazz played a month that badly, they finished 2-15 in March of the 2013-14 season, the last Ty Corbin season. Trey Burke/Gordon Hayward/Richard Jefferson/Marvin Williams/Derrick Favors was the team’s preferred starting lineup.

Obviously, this losing stretch feels very different than that one. That one, frankly, was the last non-gasp of a coaching staff that was clearly going to end. Honestly, Ty Corbin was in kind of a tough position that year, as the Jazz essentially chose to make it a non-competitive year when they let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk without offers. There were some young players, but we were learning that they weren’t as good as we thought they were: Burke, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, and Jeremy Evans showed they weren’t building blocks that season. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward were better, but not all that great, either. (Hayward would improve, Favors wouldn’t much.)

This one feels like an explicable blip: the two best players out for large stretches, others out due to era-defining pandemic, a tough schedule. That’s not to say 4-12 is good enough for a contending team, but it’s not unimaginable that the Jazz put it all together in the last three months.

The Jazz’s schedule is difficult from here. February is about average, with a lot of home games. March? Yikes. Two long road trips, including some games against top competition. They face the Warriors, Grizzlies, and Suns in April.

But this January losing streak has, undoubtedly, made the Jazz’s run harder. They’re now the No. 4 seed with no real prayer of getting a top two seed, meaning they’ll likely start a possible second-round series on the road. They’ve officially lost the tiebreaker with the Grizzlies, meaning even the third seed is highly unlikely. They’re only one game ahead of the Nuggets and Mavericks.

The trade value of the Jazz’s role players has probably also lessened, given that they weren’t able to step up in new roles. We’ll see if Danny Ainge is able to pull off a helpful trade, but the value of, Jordan Clarkson or Royce O’Neale isn’t as high as it was last month. On the other hand, no one can doubt the value of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert now, but the Jazz don’t want to trade them.

Most importantly, the last month has made obvious the issues of the roster and the need for a trade: with a sample size of 50 games, the problems have been diagnosed.

Now, they need to be repaired.