What does Joe Ingles’ torn ACL mean for the Utah Jazz this season and beyond?

The veteran is expected to have season-ending surgery in the weeks to come

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles’ season is over.

Ingles suffered a left knee injury in the second quarter of Sunday’s matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz announced Monday that an MRI had confirmed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which will necessitate season-ending knee surgery. One silver lining: no other structural damage was found in Ingles’ knee.

The injury came as Ingles planted his knee hard on a drive with 5:52 left in the second quarter. Without much contact, Ingles fell to the ground and screamed in pain. Teammates surrounded him as he lay on the floor, and sent well wishes to him during and after Sunday’s contest.

Now the Jazz and Ingles are left to wonder what comes next.

How long does it take to recover from ACL surgery?

No timeline for Ingles’ return has been established. He will likely undergo surgery in the next few weeks. But first, he needs to have the swelling in his knee reduced, in order to recover range of motion in his knee before surgery can take place, the team says.

Then comes the recovery. How long do ACL injuries typically take to recover from? A study from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Brown University sought to answer that question. They found 26 ACL tears that occurred in the NBA from 2010 to 2019 to see how long it was before those players returned to play — if they did at all. Of the 26 players in the study, 22 did return to play, in an average of 372 days after their first injury.

As you can see, players have come back from ACL injuries after as soon as 220 days, but typically, return happens after 300 days away from the NBA. (Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Brown University.)

However, player age was negatively correlated with return to play. Forwards, too, were less likely to return to NBA action than guards. Ingles, 34, is a forward.

Additionally, the Brown doctors found that athletes had a significant reduction in performance in their first season back (as measured by PER), before bouncing back to pre-injury norms in their second season back.

Ingles’ contract and roster implications

Ingles was averaging 7.2 points and 3.5 assists in 24.9 minutes per game for the Jazz this season. His $14 million contract with the Jazz expires this season, meaning that he will be an unrestricted free agent this upcoming summer. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton sees a path forward for Ingles to pitch himself in the free agent market as a 2023 trade “deadline pickup” that teams can acquire in the offseason, without having to use assets to acquire the veteran in February.

From a Jazz perspective, before Ingles’ injury, the team was reportedly shopping the forward to interested clubs in order to sacrifice Ingles’ offense for a more defensively-focused option — those deals now only make sense if the team acquiring Ingles want him more for the expiring contract than for his on-court talents. Portland or Indiana might be clubs that would be willing to lose productive players for Ingles, so long as the Jazz were attaching valuable future picks to his contract. The team also has a trade exception, acquired after moving Derrick Favors in the summer, that they could use to find a replacement.

How will the Jazz replace Ingles on the court?

The obvious on-roster option for Ingles’ on-court minutes is new 10-day acquisition Danuel House Jr, who is likely to sign a full-season contract with the Jazz soon. House, 28, played 30 minutes per night for the Houston Rockets three seasons ago. At his best, he provides good shooting and defense, albeit without any of Ingles’ playmaking. However, House just entered COVID protocols on Sunday, and figures to miss at least the Jazz’s next game against Denver, if not more. And, well, House simply hasn’t played at his best for the last couple of seasons.

Beyond that, the Jazz are thin at the wings. Second-year wing Elijah Hughes has played when the Jazz are desperate, and sometimes shot well. His defense, though, provides no answers to the Jazz’s problems. Last summer’s free agent acquisition, Rudy Gay, could probably stand to play a few more minutes, but can’t play enough to be more than a minor help to filling the role. Smaller guards Royce O’Neale and Jordan Clarkson probably already play more than the Jazz would prefer.

They do have an open roster spot and an open two-way slot to use to sign more depth. They conceivably could get an additional roster spot by waiving Ingles, if they can’t find a taker at the deadline.

All in all, it’s a tough situation for the Jazz to be in. Replacing Ingles’ production would be difficult enough, but the Jazz also want to get better than they were in last season playoffs in order to be real contenders.

In the meantime, Ingles — a Jazz fan favorite, the second-longest tenured Jazzman — awaits his uncertain future.