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The legend of Joe Ingles moves into its next chapter: The sixth man era

You’ve seen starting Joe, headband Joe and Dunk Life Joe, but now it’s time for sixth man Joe.

It’s safe to say Joe Ingles has become accustomed to being a full-time starter with the Utah Jazz. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, only one NBA player has started more games than the 163 of Joseph Howarth Ingles (Bradley Beal has started 164). Maybe that’s why Utah was so confident that today they signed him to a 1 year extension effectively keeping him a Jazz uniform until 2022.

For those who don’t have their 82 times tables memorized, Ingles started every game last year and all but one game in the 2017-18 season. That helped vault Ingles into the top 20 in all-time starts and minutes played in Utah.

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Moving to the sixth man role

But entering the 2019-20 season Ingles will likely not retain his established spot in the starting five.

However, other than depriving the 32-year old Australian of the opportunity to run through a tunnel of teammates with his warm-ups on at the start of the game, this change won’t take away many in-game opportunities.

Even with another man taking his place around the tip-off circle, Ingles shouldn’t see his minutes drop too much. They will go down from the 31.4 he’s averaged since 2017, but 25 per night is probably the lowest that number will drop. He might even do the unthinkable and *gasp* miss a game or two here and there. And that may be for the best.

In the four seasons spanning 2015 and 2019, Ingles has missed a grand total of one game. One. In the last three that number is zero. Those who actually do know their 82 times tables can calculate that to 246 consecutive games played. Add on the games from 2015 after his one missed game and the consecutive games counter rises to 304.

That’s a lot of mileage for one player and a lot of wear and tear, even if Ingles wasn’t on the court 30 minutes a night for each of those four season (only the last two). It’s four seasons of day-in day-out prepping yourself physically and mentally.

It’s possible that the grind got to Ingles a bit. After back-to-back seasons averaging north of 45 percent shooting overall and 44 percent from three (one of the best in the league in that span from deep), Ingles’ shooting numbers dropped to “just” 44.8 percent overall and 39.1 from downtown. He also went from a high to mid 70s percent free throw shooter to just barely being over 70 percent from the charity strip.

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Keeping Joe Ingles fresh and at his best

Those drops may not seem too worrying considering they’re all still good or elite numbers. But at 32 Ingles is several years on the wrong side of 30 with 327 games and 8,329 minutes under his belt in four years. Preserving the legs of one of the best small forwards in the game and a fan favorite should be a priority to the Jazz front office.

Moving Ingles to the bench will obviously lead to a down-tick in per game averages due to lack of minutes, but he’s still in a position to be a 10-5-5 man coming off the bench. He’s been pretty close to those numbers in the last two years at 11.8 points, 5.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds since 2017.

While his rebound and points numbers will go down, that assists average is something to keep an eye one. Last season from February to the end of the regular season, Ingles averaged 7.1 assists, good for 13th league-wide in that time. He was ahead of Ben Simmons, Mike Conley, Kyrie Irving and James Harden among others.

That increase came mainly out of a lack of healthy ball-handlers on the Jazz for many of those games. And while Utah now boasts several great wings and guards with high levels of ball skills — Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and Conley obviously — those players will decorate the opening five. Ingles’ name very much deserves to be right alongside those three in terms of ball-handling prowess, but he will take those talents to the backup brigade, which coincidentally lacks great ball skills to a somewhat worrying degree.

As it stands currently, the main players alongside Ingles in that second unit will be Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale and Ed Davis; a trio of players that would benefit greatly from the point abilities brought by the elder Aussie.

For much of Ingles’ estimated 27 minutes per game this season, he’ll play point with a load of backups mixed in with starters as the rotation flows. But at the end of the game he will likely cast off that role in favor of what may be his most anticipated opportunity — the chance to be in the Rocky Mountain version of the Death Lineup.

As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter if you start a game on the floor, it matters if you finish it there (or something like that). And at the end of games it’s hard to imagine that Ingles won’t jump in with the normal starters and terrorize NBA opponents with a lineup of Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, Ingles and Rudy Gobert at the end of close games.

That potential five-man band has made Jazz fans, local (and national) media and probably Quin Snyder giddy as school children giddy just trying to imagine the offensive possibilities while still maintaining some of the stingy defense of previous seasons. Ingles will be one of the driving forces in that crew.

There’s one final thing Ingles could accomplish this season, and it would be something never done before by a member of the Utah Jazz: win the sixth man of the year award. No Jazzman, since the first award was handed to 76ers forward Bobby Jones in 1983, has claimed sixth man of the year. A couple guys who donned a Jazz uniform won the trophy at some point (Dell Curry and John Starks namely) but never while wearing the purple and/or blue.

Ingles will have to compete with three-time sixth man of the year Lou Williams, a man ready to reprise his role with the Clippers for yet another year but this time with two superstars ahead of him. But Ingles is still a name on the lips and on the typing fingertips of media and fans across the NBA.