Utah’s Joe Ingles leads the NBA in an advanced stat he had to Google

  • Joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009
  • Covers the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks
  • Appears regularly on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM

DURING OCCASIONAL SCROLLS through his Twitter mentions, Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles saw enough references to a particular stat to pique his curiosity.

“I honestly Googled it one time to try to figure out what they’re talking about, and I had f—ing no idea still after reading it,” Ingles says. “I didn’t understand it when they said it; I didn’t understand it when I Googled it.”

What baffles Ingles is true shooting percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws.

“Screw it,” Ingles says. “Let me just keep shooting and see if it keeps going in.”

It has. In fact, Ingles is in extraordinarily rare air.

Ingles’ NBA-best .692 true shooting percentage this season — a blend of shooting 50.3% from the floor, 46.9% from 3-point range and 84.0% from the free throw line — would rank ninth in league history.

The only members of the .700 club are 7-footers living above the rim: the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson last season and Tyson Chandler in 2011-12, and the Chicago Bulls’ Artis Gilmore in 1981-82. Ingles has a shot at catching that group over Utah’s final seven games of the season.

“I’m not catching any lobs,” the Australian player says with a laugh. The 6-foot-8 Ingles has a grand total of one dunk this season, squeaking the ball over the rim after an uncontested baseline drive against the Denver Nuggets, and he long ago earned the nickname “Slow Mo Joe.”

Ingles, who is averaging 12.3 points per game for the league-leading Jazz, sheepishly called it “kinda cool, I guess” that he could end up having a statistical claim to the most efficient shooting campaign in NBA history. Kyle Korver, who had a .699 true shooting percentage for the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, is the only non-center in the top 10. Like Korver with that 60-win team, Ingles is both a beneficiary of a ball-moving system and a critical cog who helps keep it humming.

Utah’s 33-year-old non-dunking wing sits atop a statistical category normally reserved for rim-running big men, the result of a steady development of counters to opponents’ scouting reports and constant tinkering of an expanding tool set.

Ingles would put it more simply, crediting Jazz coach Quin Snyder for guiding his development, from a 27-year-old rookie at the end of the roster to a core player for a contender.

“It’s just been an every-offseason process,” Ingles says. “I sit down with Quin and say, ‘What did I suck at this year?'”

THE BIGGEST WEAKNESS in Ingles’ offensive game was exposed by the Houston Rockets in the 2019 postseason.

“They were just sitting on my left hand,” Ingles says. “Everything was forcing me right, forcing me right, and I f—ing sucked going to my right.”

The southpaw averaged 6.4 points on 32.4% shooting in the Jazz’s five-game defeat to James Harden & Co.

“That offseason, I was like, ‘All right, I’m getting a one-dribble pull-up going to my right.'”

Almost solely a spot-up shooter when he entered the league, Ingles is now incorporating more off-dribble 3s (66-of-153, 43.1% this season) than ever into his shot diet, mixing in some transition pull-ups but mostly launching out of pick-and-rolls. Yet only 32 of his 360 total 3-point attempts this season have been tightly contested, per NBA.com’s tracking data.

“It’s probably because I’m so fast that they can’t stay in front of me,” Ingles cracks.

He credits All-Star big man Rudy Gobert and backup center Derrick Favors for setting screens that create clean looks. Ingles has been playing with both of them since his rookie year — with the exception of Favors’ sabbatical with the New Orleans Pelicans last season — so he has excellent pick-and-roll rapport with both big men.

That now features a feel for when to flip the screen, setting up Ingles to take advantage of a defender taking away his strong hand.

“Going right to shoot 3s is almost more comfortable for me now,” he explains.

As Gobert adds, “If the defense wants to take away something, he’s going to find something else to punish them.”

Early in his career, Ingles’ penetration off pick-and-rolls wasn’t perceived as a threat. He couldn’t score effectively in the paint, so teams played him to pass, leading to a career-worst 20.9 turnover rate.

“I didn’t even f—ing shoot the ball my first two years,” Ingles says. “I wasn’t even looking at the rim. I was literally not shooting it when a defender was under the basket. I would shot fake and pass to Gordon [Hayward].

“I thought that was the only way I would stay on the floor.”

As a rookie, Ingles shot a subpar 53.5% on his rare attempts in the restricted area, according to NBA.com/stats. He is hitting a career-best 63.3% of those short-range shots this season, significantly higher than the league average despite his lack of springs.

“I’m not going to be like Donovan [Mitchell] jumping off of two feet, hanging and taking the contact in the air and finishing,” Ingles says. “I’m not doing that. Let’s keep it real. So, it was about finding ways with my athleticism and my speed and the way I play.”

In other words: Develop a floater.

Nothing fancy, just lofting the ball over the fingertips of shot-blocking big men. It took countless repetitions on the Jazz’s practice court for Ingles to become comfortable and confident in a basic floater off one foot. It took just as much work for him to add a two-foot floater — a “push shot,” as he calls it.

“Then it was like, ‘All right, [I’ve got] the floater, now I need another finish in the lane,’ which is where the ball fake came in,” Ingles says.

That has become perhaps the closest thing Ingles has in his arsenal to a signature move, in part because it fits so well with his best-player-at-YMCA-pickup-runs style. It’s a simple move — fake the pass to the rolling big and, all in one motion, lay the ball up — that often makes opposing centers look silly.

“It’s because he’s such a good passer,” said Gobert, who had a .699 true shooting percentage last season, when Ingles assisted on dozens of the big man’s 221 dunks. “It’s a great weapon.”

And Ingles readily admits it’s become much more effective than he anticipated.

“You’re doing it at the practice facility with [an assistant coach holding] a f—ing broom or something as a defender, and you’re like, ‘Well, we’ll see,'” Ingles says.

“Then you’re [in games] getting bigs who are literally like turned the other way. Bigs were going for it every time, and I was like, ‘Holy s—, this is working way better than I ever envisioned it would.'”

INGLES HAS CREDENTIALS to merit an invitation to the league’s 3-point contest (he is a career 41.7% shooter from deep) but has no interest in giving up family time to go to All-Star Weekend. His Jazz teammates used to joke that he’d only get through the third rack anyway, a jab at his slow release, which he describes as “literally drop down to my knees with the ball and bring it back up.”

That punchline, though, has become outdated.

It didn’t take long for Ingles to recognize the problem of taking a deep, creaky crouch before launching on catch-and-shoot 3s. It wasn’t just that Ingles had to pass up what should have been good shots; it negatively impacted the Jazz’s offensive spacing.

“The one that comes to mind is like a young Trevor Ariza seven years ago, a late-20s Trevor Ariza,” Ingles says. “He’s literally in the paint ready to take a charge on Rudy’s roll, Rudy throws it to me and he still gets out and contests the s— out of my jump shot.

“‘What the hell?'”

Ingles worked to speed up his shooting motion, steadily becoming comfortable with eliminating any dip when he catches the ball in front of his chest or head, a move he said that has only started to feel natural this season.

“It’s just helped me be consistent with the shots that I want to shoot and taking good shots that are uncontested,” says Ingles, who is 102-of-202 (50.5%) on catch-and-shoot 3s this season.

“I don’t take bad shots,” Ingles adds, as a point of pride.

Snyder considers it a much bigger problem if Ingles passes up a good shot. The coach has been persistent over the years about emphasizing to Ingles how the Jazz’s efficiency soars when he shoots against closeouts and how the turnover rate spikes when he doesn’t take an open look. He finally forbade Ingles from slumping his shoulders when he missed.

“He had to be willing to miss,” Snyder says. “That was the biggest thing for him to overcome. I’d rather him go 0-for-10 than 1-for-2. The deal was he could literally not react when he missed. You’re not allowed to show it in your body language. It’s OK to miss.”

One questionable jumper from earlier this season, though, still sticks in Ingles’ craw. He regretted it as soon as the ball left his hand on the Jazz’s first possession of the second quarter in their April 19 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Ah, it was terrible,” Ingles says of the bricked midrange pull-up he forced with Talen Horton-Tucker’s hand in his face.

“I really didn’t want to shoot it. I think I thought there was less time [on the shot clock],” he explains. “I did create a little space; but in my head, I was like, I should have just crossed over and dribbled one more time and shot a floater.

“But we do silly things at times.”

Ingles has made only one 2-pointer outside the paint all season. He has attempted just six, three of which occurred when he accidentally stepped on the 3-point line, including his lone make. He doesn’t even take them during his warm-up or post-practice shooting sessions, focusing solely on the variety of finishes and 3-pointers that fill his analytically friendly shot chart.

Yet as far as his coaches and teammates are concerned, Ingles has earned the license to test his limits, even if this unlikely advanced stat darling won’t be deviating from his plan any time soon.

“You shoot the ball better than anybody in the league,” All-Star point guard Mike Conley said of his teammate, as if he is speaking to Ingles.

“Let it go. Let it fly.”

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