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On Joe Ingles: The criminally underrated Utah Jazz Small Forward

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Somehow, people are still sleeping on Joe Ingles.

Sydney Kings v Utah Jazz Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

In March, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon wrote, “[Utah] Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey calls Ingles, a local cult hero of sorts who co-hosts a weekly radio show in Salt Lake City, one of the top 10 small forwards in the NBA.”

At the time, that declaration might’ve seemed crazy to casual NBA fans. Maybe it still does. But to those who’ve watched Utah over the last couple seasons, especially this most recent one, it shouldn’t have been surprising at all.

What should’ve been was the following tweet from fellow SB Nation blog, Grizzly Bear Blues:

JOE INGLES FOR JAMYCHAL GREEN, BEN MCLEMORE AND AN END-OF-THE-FIRST-ROUND PICK?!

Ingles had 8.9 Wins Over Replacement Player (WORP) this season. Green and McLemore combined for minus-0.5 WORP. The median career scoring average for a No. 26 pick is 5.1 points.

OK, maybe I shouldn’t pick on GBB. As I discussed with SLC Dunk editor-in-chief Mychal Lowman while bouncing this idea off him, Ingles remains criminally underrated in exercises like this. But Green, McLemore and whoever’s taken at 26 are, at best, borderline rotation players right now.

Ingles, meanwhile, is a top 10 small forward. And it’s not just because Lindsey said it. The numbers back him up.

Let’s start with my own little exercise. I took all 353 players who logged at least 500 minutes this season, then sorted them by the average of their ranks in seven different catch-all metrics (four cumulative, three rate).

Where Does Ingles Rank Overall?

Ingles was 18th in Real Plus-Minus Wins (RPM Wins), 25th in Real Plus-Minus (RPM), 25th in Wins Over Replacement Player (WORP), 30th in Win Shares (WS), 34th in Box Plus-Minus (BPM), 73rd in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48) and 160th in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). That’s an average of 52.1. Only 38 players in the NBA had a better average rank this season, and that’s regardless of position.

Where Does Ingles Rank Among Small Forwards?

Now, let’s narrow the lists to include only small forwards (positions determined by play-by-play data from Basketball Reference, and a few judgment calls from yours truly).

Real Plus-Minus

  1. Robert Covington
  2. Otto Porter
  3. LeBron James
  4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  5. Jrue Holiday
  6. Joe Ingles
  7. Kevin Durant
  8. Jayson Tatum
  9. Kyle Anderson
  10. Paul George

Real Plus-Minus Wins

  1. LeBron James
  2. Robert Covington
  3. Jrue Holiday
  4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  5. Otto Porter
  6. Paul George
  7. Joe Ingles
  8. Kevin Durant
  9. Jayson Tatum
  10. Khris Middleton

Box Plus-Minus

  1. LeBron James
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Kyle Anderson
  5. Otto Porter
  6. Joe Ingles
  7. Paul George
  8. Robert Covington
  9. Jrue Holiday
  10. Thabo Sefolosha

Wins Over Replacement Player

  1. LeBron James
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Otto Porter
  5. Joe Ingles
  6. Paul George
  7. Kyle Anderson
  8. Jrue Holiday
  9. Robert Covington
  10. Josh Richardson

Win Shares per 48 Minutes

  1. LeBron James
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Otto Porter
  5. Thabo Sefolosha
  6. Kyle Anderson
  7. Paul George
  8. Joe Ingles
  9. Jayson Tatum
  10. Maurice Harkless

Win Shares

  1. LeBron James
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Paul George
  5. Otto Porter
  6. Joe Ingles
  7. Jayson Tatum
  8. Jrue Holiday
  9. Kyle Anderson
  10. Robert Covington

Player Efficiency Rating

  1. LeBron James
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Paul George
  5. Otto Porter
  6. Jrue Holiday
  7. T.J. Warren
  8. Khris Middleton
    ...
    14. Joe Ingles

Average of All Seven Ranks

  1. LeBron James
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Otto Porter
  5. Paul George
  6. Jrue Holiday
  7. Kyle Anderson
  8. Joe Ingles
  9. Robert Covington
  10. Jayson Tatum

The one catch-all in which Ingles isn’t top 10 among small forwards is PER. And the issues with that number have been pointed out plenty of times. It rewards volume scoring, which certainly isn’t Ingles’ forte.

But in an era where wings who can run pick-and-roll, defend all over the floor and hit threes are extremely valuable, the other numbers seem to better gauge his value.

And those guys are at a premium right now. Why would a team trade one, especially one of the top 10 at his position, for players who wouldn’t have even logged minutes for the 2017-18 Jazz?

Utah, of course, wouldn’t. But there does seem to be plenty around the internet who still don’t understand how good Ingles is.

Beyond the Catch-Alls

Ingles is perfect for the era of position-less basketball we’re heading toward. It won’t be long till most (or at least a good portion) of the league plays lineups with five like-sized players who can truly do a little bit of everything. That, or four of those players and a rim protector (Rudy Gobert anyone?).

The three biggest boxes to check are shooting, playmaking and defense. And Ingles does just that.

A broad view of that is the list of players who match or exceed Ingles’ career True Shooting Percentage (TS%), Assist Percentage (AST%) and Steal Percentage (STL%): Stephen Curry, James Harden, Magic Johnson and John Stockton. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. And Magic Johnson is the only player there who’s taller than Ingles.

Shooting

Let’s drill down a little more specifically into the shooting. Among players with at least 1,000 three-point attempts, Ingles ranks 12th in NBA history in three-point percentage.

He was fifth in three-point percentage this season, and third last season. Among players with at least 500 attempts over the last two seasons combined, Ingles trails only Kyle Korver in three-point percentage.

Among the 127 players who took at least 200 catch-and-shoot jumpers this season, Ingles’ catch-and-shoot Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of 68.7 trailed only Buddy Hield.

No matter how you look at it, this is one of the most dangerous shooters in the NBA right now. Floor spacers like Ingles change the game.

Playmaking

Among Jazz players, Ingles was second to Ricky Rubio in assists, secondary assists and potential assists per game. He led the team in percentage of total passes that became assists.

Getting this kind of passing out of a player as big as Ingles is rare, even by today’s standards.

There were 166 players this season who logged at least 500 minutes and stand at least as tall as Ingles (6’8”). Ingles was 10th in that group in AST%. His career AST% is 25th among 6’8”-plus players with at least 5,000 minutes.

Defense

Let’s use the same parameters from the preceding paragraph and apply them to STL%. Ingles was 37th in STL% among 6’8”-plus players this season. He’s 32nd in career STL% among 6’8”-plus players, just ahead of LeBron James.

But of course, defense is about much more than steals.

Ingles is almost always in the right position on defense. He anticipates passing lanes well, knows when to help and when to stay home, can move his feet with guards on the perimeter and take a beating inside from a big man.

Last year’s first-round postseason victory over the Los Angeles Clippers provided examples of all of the above:

Ingles defended a bunch of different Clippers, but essentially eliminating J.J. Redick from the series was perhaps the crowning achievement.

After averaging 15 points with a TS% of .599 in the 2016-17 regular season, Redick only averaged 9.1 points with a TS% of .544 against Ingles and the Jazz.

So, Why is Joe Ingles Still So Underrated?

The level of respect for Ingles rose this season. It probably did a little last season, as well. But there are still instances that remind us how under-appreciated he is.

Is it because he didn’t start playing in the NBA until he was 26? Is it because, as Ingles has pointed out himself, some fans think he looks like a math teacher? Is it the obsession that so many fans still have with points per game?

Maybe it’s some concoction of all those things. Regardless, even as Ingles’ basketball reputation improves, his play is still a little ahead of it. And I haven’t even touched what he means to this team from chemistry or leadership standpoints.

This is one of the top 10 small forwards in the NBA right now.

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for SLC Dunk and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewDBailey) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Dan Favale.