Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz is no household name, at least not stateside yet. The versatile swingman from down under was a useful-enough contributor during his first two seasons in the NBA, averaging 9.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 37.1 percent from behind the arc. But now in his third year with the Jazz, Aussie Joe has emerged as an impact player for a legitimate playoff contender.
The 29-year old well-traveled South Australian finds himself atop the list of the NBA’s most accurate 3-point shooters. Through the halfway mark of the season, Ingles is knocking down a league-leading 46.0 percent of his long balls. That’s better than Kyrie Irving (40.1), Stephen Curry (39.7) and Klay Thompson (39.6). But Ingles doesn’t have any desire to join the league’s elite shooters in the three-point contest at the NBA’s All-Star weekend next month.
“I couldn’t care less about it to be honest,” Ingles admitted to me in the Utah locker room. “It’s a good time for me and my wife and the twins to get away and I mean she’s had a pretty big five or six months, well before that being pregnant and now having the twins and obviously being pretty full on with them every night and every day. So it’s a good opportunity for us to get away as a family and they might not even pick me anyway so it’s something that we’ll cross when that happens. But I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.”
Ingles, of course, isn’t a volume shooter like the Curry’s and Irving’s of the world. He plays 20.4 minutes a game and jacks up roughly three triples in that time. The southpaw has taken a total of 124 shots from behind the arc — Curry, the league’s preeminent deep threat, has hit on 158 of his 398 attempts. But this year, Ingles doesn’t need to be Grand Canyon levels of wide open to think about shooting. When it comes to his improvement, the 6’8 forward cited a few factors – from his coach’s confidence in his talents, to his team’s selflessness and an intensive summer spent with the Australian national team.
“The whole summer this year I was with the national team for the Olympics and I probably shot the worst I ever shot this summer,” said Ingles, who connected on just 4 of his 24 three-point attempts in the tournament. “But more than anything, the confidence to take the shots that I get given or that are out there when I’m playing so when you’ve got your head coach and all the players telling you to shoot it when you’re open it gives you confidence.”
This past summer was an interesting one for the Adelaide-native. Ingles and his Australian netball star wife, Renae, welcomed twins, Jacob and Milla, in July. He also suited up at his third straight Olympic Games in Rio having been a part of Australia’s Beijing 2008 and London 2012 campaigns. For the first time ever, the Boomers were a team legitimately built out of players with NBA experience. But the group failed to secure a medal, finishing with another painful fourth place finish.
“We thought we had a great chance to do something special, obviously 4th is still a fair accomplishment but we thought we should of walked out for there with a medal,” Ingles said. “But we’ve got these young guys coming through, we still got some really good older guys that will hang around and I think 2020 will be exciting. With Ben [Simmons] and Thon [Maker] and Dante [Exum], bring those 3 into what we’ve already got, it’s pretty exciting.”
It’s been quite the journey to NBA relevance for the Australian journeyman. At the age of 16, Ingles was sent off to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, where he was a blossoming star at the dawn of Australian basketball golden generation. The option of playing college ball in America was available, but he wasn’t a big fan of school and believed he was ready to play against men in Australia. Ingles signed his first professional contract with the South Dragons at age 17, becoming the first player to sign with the expansion side.
Oddly enough, Ingles’ first professional game remains the highest scoring outing of his career. He dropped 29 points in over 40 minutes of action and hasn’t matched that output since. Ingles finished his rookie campaign averaging over 15 points per game and was rewarded with the 2007 NBL’s rookie of the year award. He remained with the Dragons until the club folded in 2009. Then came an opportunity to show NBA teams he belonged during the 2009 Summer League, where Ingles suited up for the Golden State Warriors. No NBA offer came and he signed with CB Granada of the Liga ACB.
A successful season there earned Ingles another invitation to audition with the Warriors in summer league, which turned into another failed foray into America. Upon his return to Europe, Ingles transferred from Granada to FC Barcelona, signing a three-year contract. The team claimed the Spanish league title and Kings Cup in 2011. Ingles also happened to be roommates with wunderkind Ricky Rubio. The 2012 Olympics in London were next and Ingles was the Boomers best player averaging 15 points, 5 rebound and 4 assists per game.
NBA scouts took notice and a chance to sign with the Memphis Grizzles was offered. Ingles declined and ultimately signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where the David Blatt coached team won the Euroeleague in 2014. After a strong showing with Australia at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. Ingles went through the entire preseason with the team and looked set to make the squad. But just four days before the start of the season, Ingles was released just as his wife was flying in to see him play for the first time. Luckily, Utah came calling.
“It all worked out, couldn’t of worked out any better really,” said Ingles, who is renowned for being the team clown. “She landed and we just kind of sat around for a couple of days to try and work out what we were going to do and we were pretty much about to get on a plane home, go back to Australia and just kind of hang out for a couple of months and then I was going to spend kind of Christmas at home and then go back to Europe kind of January-ish or something like that and the next day I got a call from whoever it was from Utah and that was it.”
From day one in Utah, Ingles has been fighting to prove himself. He is not the typical NBA player and there will never be jaw-dropping dunks. He looks more like a janitor or science teacher than an NBA player. But the longtime Aussie pro is a feisty dude who has found a niche off doing the little things. He’ll swing the ball to open shooters, make the extra pass, and take almost exclusively smart shots. Come free agency, it’s not out of the question that Ingles could demand a solid payday, but, right now, he’s the Utah version of a Swiss Army knife.
“I love the role I’ve got on the team. I don’t want to be out there shooting 20 shots a game or doing anything like that,” said Ingles who has played in 203 of a possible 207 games since joining the Jazz. “So it’s a perfect role for me with the players that we’ve already got, to come in and scrap around a little bit and obviously know with the confidence to take those shots. I think in the past I’ve probably hurt the group a little bit not taking those shots and being in this system a while and the coach and just being around this whole group for three years now definitely helps.”