It’s a Friday night in Philadelphia, and Brett Brown has the attention of a handful of 76ers’ beat writers and other media members. It’s opening night for the Sixers, so naturally the local media is interested in the ins-and-outs of Brown’s lineup. After a few minutes, a wry smile appears on the coach’s face when asked about a player that he will not be designing a single defensive scheme for tonight, but one that he knows better than probably any coach in the entire NBA: Joe Ingles.
“I’ve known Joe for 12 years, 14 years, and coached him for a very long time,” says Brown. “He found a place, he found a home [at Utah]. He’s a three man, he’s a four man, he’s a two man. He was huge for us [Australian national team] at the London Olympic Games. He’s one of these people that’s a wonderful teammate and will play whatever role they ask of him, and he’s Aussie; he brings a real flavor and feel to the team. A good nature, tremendous sense of humor- all the things we love in the Aussies.”
The Jazz’ locker room is atypical of what is considered the norm at NBA arenas. There is no loud music, the entire playing roster is visible, and traveling media is at a minimum. To talk in anything other than a hushed tone seems rude. Joe Ingles is drenched in sweat, but laid-back as he sits in front of his stall inside the visitor’s room at Wells Fargo Arena. He’s just finished an extended warm-up period on court, readying himself for the grind of the NBA schedule by working at his craft. It’s Year Two in Utah for the Australian after the team re-signed him to a two-year, $4.5 million deal on July. 10, and for the first time in his career, Ingles is feeling refreshed headed into a new season.
“I mean, preseason takes a hit [but] I feel really good compared to other years coming into a season,” he says. “It’s just different because I’ve never done that before. I’ve never had an off-season off; it was good to relax and kind of work on my own stuff for a little bit.”
In his first season in the league he appeared in 79 games (starting 32), scored in double-digits on 16 occasions, and in March he recorded a career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting (4-6 from distance). Still, the grind of a league where playing three or four games in five nights is a regular staple of the schedule took its toll on Ingles. After consultations with the Jazz and the Australian national team, he decided to forgo representing his country in an August Olympic qualifier series against traditional rival New Zealand, in order to rest his body and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.
“I’d done national team for so long, and a lot of long years in Europe,” says Ingles. “Then the first year here [in Utah] it was pretty full on, so I had a couple little niggling things that, between the Jazz and the Boomers and the medical staff from both ends, they decided it was a good year to get some rest and try and get ready for next year.”
For players who have the security of a multi-year deal, it means they get a little lackadaisical with their work habits. For Ingles, it’s time to work harder. His post-All-Star numbers last season were solid: 6.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2 assists, along with 42.7 percent from long range. Now with coach Quinn Snyder’s plan to use a number of three-wing lineups, Ingles will get a chance to further display his versatility.
“When I saw Joe play in Barcelona, he’s just a multiple position guy,” says Snyder. “You can put him out there with a lot of different people, and I think he’s got a good feel for the game, too. He adds a lot of intangible things; you know, we hear that, but for him I think it’s both personality and understanding the game as well as his skill set.
“We just want him to take care of the basketball. He knows that, we passed that onto him to just not turn it over. When he’s doing that he becomes even more efficient, particularly when he’s playing at a big position as a four.”
Last season the Jazz ranked 23rd in the league in turnovers per game with 15.3, and although he wasn’t the worst offender on the team, Ingles did average 1.2 turnovers per game. Delve deeper into the advanced numbers, and his turnover percentage was a whopping 20.9%. Given he had a usage percentage of just 12.9%, there was justification in the coaching staff’s concern.
Says Ingles: “Yeah, I think my whole career I’ve — I haven’t been turnover prone, but I’ve tried to make passes that get other guys involved, and sometimes they’re risky. There’s a lot easier passes to make sometimes. I’ve spoken to him [Snyder] a lot this off-season, and since I’ve been back, and if I think I can make it he’s got the confidence that I can and I do in myself. If it’s not there, or I think it’s a risky pass [then] I’m not gonna do it.”
“It’s just something I need to focus on– I mean, I’m not gonna change the way I play,” Ingles continues. “It’s just something to keep in the back of my mind when I am gonna throw a 50-50 pass. I definitely won’t have as many [turnovers] as last year.”
Through the Jazz’ first three games of the young season he has yet to commit a turnover.
At age 28, Ingles is one of just three Jazz players over 25. As a team, Utah have a combined average age of 24.8 years, making them tied for the second youngest team in the NBA. But continuity is crucial in the NBA, and the team’s core has returned from last season. Chemistry among the players is bubbling, and Ingles says he has a new-found comfort level in the NBA.
“Yeah, especially with the team,” he states. “When I got here last season it was a day, or two days before the season. I didn’t know anyone, except Dante, and the system and the coach.
“When I was on court, the first few months [last season] it was kind of getting used to it, and the style of play – even just playing with the guys in this room, so this year’s totally different,” continues Ingles. “Kind of like night and day, really. I’m a lot more aggressive, I know where to pick my spots to be aggressive, and just knowing the system and the coach and what he expects. [Now] it just feels like playing with the national team. It’s a comfortable group of guys that play hard, and just leave it all out there to try and win each night.”
Part of the reason why Ingles is so determined to do whatever it takes to improve his game is simple: he wants to help the Jazz reach the post-season for the first time since 2011-12. The Jazz saw a 13-plus win improvement from the 2013-14 season finishing 38-44 in 2014-15. Now, they’re looking to make another jump into a playoff seed. A scenario made that much more difficult playing in the brutal Western Conference, but not impossible when you have one of the league’s best defenses kick-starting your offense.
“It’s tough, obviously. Home games are super important and we wanna win as many of them as possible,” says Ingles. “Obviously getting some on the road [as well]. You can’t be a playoff team without getting some on the road. For us, we start defensively, especially with Rudy [Gobert] and Fave [Derrick Favors] at the back there it protects us a lot as guards, to be able to get there and be aggressive knowing that they have our backs.
“Rebounding the ball is something that, with those guys being so big, we can go out and get after it and run. Our offense is running and scoring off that, and we’ve got a good enough team to run a half court offense and get effective shots. There’s no pressure. In our locker room we’re gonna do what we do, and that’s play hard and win as many [games] as possible. If that puts us in a spot to make the playoffs, then great.”
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