That speculation is swiftly turning into reality, as Ingles has turned in one excellent performance after another in leading Australia to a 3-1 record (they lost their fifth game to Angola after deciding to not play Ingles and Aron Baynes). During his first three games in Spain, he averaged nearly 16 points per contest on a fiery 70.3 percent from the field. Then, in Australia’s triumph against Mexico on Wednesday, he showed off his ability to affect the game in multiple ways by being held scoreless on one shot, but pulling together five rebounds, five assists, and a steal.
Given Marc Stein’s report that Ingles is a “lock for the NBA next season” with at least seven teams chasing him, now might be a good time to learn a little bit more about the Australian forward close to realizing his NBA dream.
Positionally, Ingles is a small forward that excels on the perimeter both handling the ball and shooting it from deep. At 6’8 with a 6’10 wingspan, he has pretty excellent size for that position in the NBA. Depending on who he signs with, it actually wouldn’t be a total surprise to me to see someone line him up in a limited stretch, small-ball 4 role, utilizing his excellent decision-making, quick ball-movement, and ability to shoot the ball in order to clear out the lane for smaller guards. It’s not totally unrealistic that he could see time at three different NBA positions. In that regard, versatility is the name of the game for Ingles, not just in his positionality but also in his skill set.
The comparison game is often silly and misguided, and that’s the case with Ingles too. For instance, the best way I can think of to describe his play style is a combination of Manu Ginobili and Chandler Parsons together. While those are two vastly different players, making this comparison reek of racial biasing due to the color of the three players’ skins, it also kind of works. The melding of ball-handling, three-point shooting, and length makes for someone that should be able to step in immediately and contribute on the offensive end. Here’s a quick little breakdown of Ingles play.
The first thing that I noticed with Ingles wasn’t the scoring (we’ll get there); rather, it was his vision. Ingles constantly peers over smaller defenders to create plays for others, both when he’s in transition and when he’s in the half court. His one-handed passes have been one of my favorite parts of the World Cup to this point. Here is an example of his prowess in the open floor.
Here, Ingles receives the outlet and immediately puts his head up. Instead of pushing it up the floor into a recovering Lithuania, he exploits their decision to over-pursue the ball instead of recovering to a man. He finds a trailing Cameron Bairstow right by the rim for an easy alley-oop lay-in.
That poise and control is something that Ingles possesses in spades. No movement ever looks forced, and every decision looks well thought out — yet not pre-determined. He simply takes what the defense gives him. Here’s another fun pass from Ingles.
Ingles sets the quick screen for a backdoor runner, then rubs off of a screen to receive a pass from Matthew Dellavedova. He gets that pass and turns the corner to the baseline, where it looks like Mexico is going to have him trapped. Before getting into that predicament though, he finds Ryan Broekhoff sliding down off of his man to the corner, and whips a pass to him for a wide-open three to start the half for Australia.
While the passing is impressive, the shooting is likely what teams will covet most when debating signing Ingles. Acting as a role player the past two seasons for two of the most competitive teams in Europe — Maccabi Tel Aviv and F.C. Barcelona — Ingles has proven to be an excellent shooter, making 40 percent of his 225 three-point attempts. His form and stroke are pure, and should translate immediately for any NBA team looking for an offensive upgrade from behind the arc.
Much of Ingles’ work is done before he even receives the ball. He notices that his man isn’t particularly paying attention, so does a quick little run behind for a hand-off. Knowing that his man won’t recover in time to contest the shot, he points his feet directly at the rim before even receiving the hand-off. Upon receiving the ball, it’s just a catch-and-shoot situation where he gets into rhythm, gets rid of the ball quickly, and follows through.
His ability to shoot and pass the ball open up the game for his slashing skill, as well. He’s an excellent ball-handler for a 6’8 player, but he doesn’t particularly have great athleticism to blow by defenders. He gets by through excellent change of direction, a superior understanding of angles, clever head fakes, and general craftiness. It’s not always pretty, but it is effective.
The versatility of his offensive skill set is such that his slightly limited athletic prowess — he’s not a bad NBA athlete by any means, but not a good one either — won’t be a factor there. Where it could come into play, however, is on defense.
Let me start by saying that Ingles is a fine defender on the world’s stage. He’s neither a plus nor minus, and gives effort, which is a good portion of the battle. Leveraging his size and strength and often overpowering smaller offensive players, Ingles does a solid job staying in front of opposing guys. His 6’10 wingspan also obviously helps with that on the perimeter, even against small forwards.
And yet still, he’s not a great lateral athlete, and that could pose problems as he moves into a higher level of athletic competition. His running gait is somewhat hunched, and that ends up transferring to the defensive end where his stance ends up the same. With the increased athleticism of NBA shooting guards, I don’t think he would be particularly effective guarding them. However, I do think that he could end up being an adequate defender of small forwards with time.
So what does all of this mean? I would expect that Ingles could step in and become a solid bench player immediately because of his versatile offensive game. Due to positional versatility of his game, there really are only a few teams where he outwardly wouldn’t be a fit. At worst you’re looking at a solid 6’8 three-point marksman and good passer off the bench, and teams can always use tall guys that shoot and move the ball.
Personally, I hope a team picks him up as a combo forward/stretch-four/point-forward hybrid and lets him loose off the bench to run their offense. Ingles played about 20 percent of his minutes for Maccabi Tel Aviv at the four last season, which means he has experience there. That would be an innovative way to utilize his skills, and one that could lead to great success. The best team to do that would probably be the Rockets, as they would allow him for his skills to be fostered in an excellent setting. Plus, they would be able to hide him defensively if the early translation is sticky with Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones both capable of guarding fours.
His age and athleticism might limit his upside, but his offensive versatility is unquestionably appealing. Look for Joe Ingles to be a solid NBA bench player next season.