Joe Ingles is in the midst of his worst stretch as an NBA player. That saying something considering his rookie year started out very bumpy. His averages for this season are 6.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists a game in 27.3 minutes a game. On defense he’s actually pulling his weight. His defensive box plus/minus is a +2.2 and according to his FiveThirtyEight Raptor rating, he’s only -0.7 despite playing a lot of minutes with Tony Bradley, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jeff Green. That’s why it may be time to end the Joe Ingles bench experiment and bring him back to the starting lineup.
Usually people don’t advocate for a struggling player to be thrown into a starting lineup, but that’s what I’m about to advocate today for the Jazz’s resident part-time YMCA player Joe Ingles.
With any judgments this early in the season, it’s easy to fall prey to small sample size. Those bench units that Joe Ingles is playing in large part have been injury plagued. That leaves Joe playing with Donovan Mitchell who’s on a long stint and starting to get fatigued before his first rest. He gets stuck with Emmanuel Mudiay who has tunnel vision, is ball dominant (28.9% usage rate), and has a low assist percentage (27.6%). He’s playing safety on defense due to Ed Davis being out with injury which puts Joe in lineups with Tony Bradley as the big. He also spends a lot of time with Jeff Green who is currently one of the 15 worst defenders in the league for the season. In essence, Joe Ingles is the glue of the bench unit and doing too much heavy lifting. He was supposed to get a break on the bench, not break his back from the burden.
It may be time for Utah to adjust their starting lineup even if Joe Ingles was not struggling offensively. Utah’s about to be back up to full strength—knock on wood, rub your lucky rabbit’s foot, and throw salt and other seasonings over your shoulder—and that means Quin Snyder may need to look at what lineups yield the best out of his players. The Utah Jazz’s bench lineup is a giant liability the minute anyone from the starting lineup steps onto the court.
The Utah Jazz have the league’s second worst bench. It only averages 26.7 points a game on 40% shooting and 31% from three. In November, they’re dead last at 23.4 points a game on 38.6% shooting and 27.1% from three. Their bench players have a combined -1.9 +/- for the month. Lest you forget, Utah has played a lot of close games this month so, unfortunately, that number isn’t thrown off by end of bench two way players who are getting worked over. Utah’s bench is bad. Part of that drop off is the injury to Ed Davis, part of it is Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay’s hot starts falling back to their averages. While Mudiay has lottery potential, he still needs lottery level development. Jeff Green is still Jeff Green but a year older.
Looking at Utah’s bench unit there’s Mudiay who is a high usage/low assist player, Jeff Green who is wildly inconsistent and not locked in on the defensive end, Tony Bradley who at this stage is in over his head developmentally for a championship contender, Dante Exum who is a poor outside shooting, high assist-making playmaker but coming back from injury, and Joe Ingles who has never been known in his career to be someone to assume a high usage, but can be super efficient in low usage situations.
Basically, this is a bench without an alpha and without well defined rolls. What can be done?
Option 1: Move Joe Ingles to starting lineup and Royce O’Neale back to the bench
This idea has some caveats. If Royce O’Neale moves to the bench, you’d need to swap Emmanuel Mudiay with Dante Exum. This is so there’s a playmaker (someone with a propensity to have a high assist percentage) to fill Joe Ingles playmaking role. Dante Exum can also fill the defensive void of being able to switch multiple positions. Royce O’Neale is then able to fill the spot of Jeff Green. But not to fear Mudiay Bay citizens, Mudiay would still stay in the lineup to guard the one but act as a slasher.
The bench lineup would then become PG Mudiay, SG (Mike Conley/Donovan), SF Dante Exum, PF Royce O’Neale, and C Tony Bradley/Ed Davis. Dante Exum would operate as the one in the offense with Conley/Mitchell as your scorers. If Bogey gets brought in for Conley/Donovan, Then everyone slots up, Exum still operates as the one, and he has spacing to operate.
Option 2: Move Bojan Bogdanovic to the bench
This is the ultimate, let’s get crazy lineup. The starting lineup would then become Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gobert. This lineup has only played 13 possessions together (SUPER SMALL SAMPLE SIZE) and has seen an eFG% of 65.6%, strong rebounding, and 192.3 points per 100 possessions. All of these are in no way replicable, but there’s potential. It pairs three players who need to have high usage rates to be successful—Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, and Rudy Gobert—with two players who can be efficient without the ball in their hands.
This would change the bench unit and allow Utah to have a gunner off the bench in Bogey. He can go in when Mitchell leaves and be the guy who can lift the offense for the bench when it runs into the ground. His ability to take people off the dribble and get his own shot, be a an efficient catch and shoot player, and run the pick and roll well would make him ideal to pair with Dante Exum and Ed Davis. His propensity to be the alpha would allow him to shine even more. That allows Utah to have a star level player with the defense who is not on their 6-10th consecutive NBA minute on the floor. Rather, Bogey is able to come into the game fresh and ready to bulldoze opposing benches.
Option 3: Replace Jeff Green with Dante Exum
This one seems like the least disruptive—and most realistic—more importantly, it could pay instant dividends. I talked about how Dante Exum could play the four spot in Utah’s offense. Hell, he’s as yoked as Royce O’Neale and two inches taller. The four spot operates a lot differently since Derrick Favors left and honestly, whatever Jeff Green is bringing to the role, Dante Exum may be able to fill better. Dante can get the rim easier with his speed and athleticism, his speed is more of a weapon at the four spot, and he can draw fouls. He shoots the three at a bit lower percentage for his career as Jeff Green, but Utah would gain more defensively with him out there. There would be an instant improvement with replacing Jeff Green’s defense with Dante Exum’s that whatever offense you get from Dante is just gravy.
Whatever Quin Snyder and company decide to do, they need to find a way to stabilize the minutes that the bench unit plays. In a conference as cutthroat as the West, every little bit counts.