Joe Ingles Has Only Declined A Hair

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In January 2019, new Minnesota Timberwolves forward Joe Ingles described his game to Adrian Wojnarowski. “Let’s be real,” he said. “I’ve got a receding hairline, I’m slow, and I’m probably not the most jacked up with abs and all that, but I’m still going to beat you one-on-one.”

Five years and a half years have passed since he said that, and a lot has changed in Ingles’ career. A tear in his left ACL caused him to miss 37 games in the 2021-22 season and ended his run with the Utah Jazz. At the trade deadline, they made him part of a three-team trade. Jazz acquired Nickiel Alexander-Walker from the Portland Trail Blazers. A year later, Ingles became a free agent and signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2022-23 season.

After his lone season in Milwaukee, he played for the Orlando Magic last year before signing with the Wolves in the offseason. Ingles’ hairline may have receded a little more since his sit-down with Woj. But in joining the Wolves on a vet minimum, Ingels will bring his shooting and leadership to a deep team.

At this stage in his career, Ingles is no longer the offensive enigma he was during his prime in Utah. However, he still shoots the ball at a high level. Ingles hit 43.5% of his 2.4 three-point attempts per game in Orlando last season, his best percentage since his 2016-17 season. 78.6% of those three-point attempts came from above the break, and Ingles still hit them at 42.4%. Of these above-the-break made threes, 90.6% of them came off assists. Furthermore, 41.4% of his total shots in Orlando were wide-open (closest defender is 6+ feet away) three-point attempts; Ingles made these wide-open shots at 54.3%.

His shooting ability and shot selection should complement Minnesota’s offense. Ingles will likely replace Kyle Anderson‘s role in the offense, so his added spacing could be crucial for the Wolves. He will offer an upgrade in shooting from Anderson, who shot 25.6% on wide-open threes. The increase in spacing could allow for better driving lanes for Anthony Edwards and prevent teams from dropping in to stop the Rudy GobertMike Conley pick-and-roll.

Ingles’ playmaking ability is his other offensive superpower. In his prime, Ingles was a secondary creator adept at probing into the defense and running pick-and-rolls with Gobert. Ingles had just 3.0 assists per game last season, his lowest since 2016-17, suggesting a decline in play. However, if we extrapolate his stats to a 36-minute per-game average, Ingles posts 6.3 assists per game, which would be his highest total per 36 since 2019-20. The truth in his playmaking is much closer to his per 36 minutes.

In 2023-24, Ingles posted a 21.7% assist percentage (amount of his possessions that end in him making an assist), his best since 2020-21. He had a 3.03 assist-to-turnover ratio, the second-best ratio of his career. While on the floor, Ingles accounted for 40.1% of Orlando’s total assists. Ingles produced a 116.1 offensive rating with his ball security, ability to read the floor, and shooting – the second-best rating of his career. Ingles’ 116.1 rating was considerably higher than Orlando’s 112.9 team offensive rating.

In Orlando, Ingles still could set up teammates at an elite level as a secondary option. Ingles’s usage rating was just 11.1%, the lowest of his career. While he doesn’t have the same burst he did at his offensive peak, Ingles’ athleticism has only fallen a hair (obligatory pun). His speed and cutting ability had never been elite. Therefore, Ingles’ ability to probe and set up teammates remains solid.

His lack of minutes in Orlando was likely due to his age (36) and the Magic wanting to give younger players more game time to develop.

Ingles has fallen off quite a bit defensively since his injury and due to his age, though. Last season, he posted the second-worst defensive rating of his career (110.3). Even this was 0.5 better than the team’s overall 110.8 defensive rating. Still, this suggests that he was an upgrade for the Magic.

However, his ability to stay in front of smaller defenders and guard bigger ones seemed to decline. Ingles allowed opposing players to shoot 58.4% from 2-point range when he was the closest defender and 70.1% when the opposing player was inside six feet. These numbers got even worse in the playoffs: 61.5% from two and 71.4% from inside 6 feet. That suggests that while Ingles is still competitive when guarding against the three, he has struggled to defend players off the dribble and at the rim.

After the signing, Ingles told ESPN, “Playing with Mike again will be awesome. Obviously, I know Rudy, and then helping these other guys to keep getting better.”

The decision to play for the Wolves may be just that simple. Ultimately, Ingles’ positives outweigh his negatives at this point in his career. For the Wolves, pairing him with his former teammates Mike Conley and Gobert, coupled with a top-ranked defense, should allow his offensive abilities to flourish while making up for his defensive decline. Ingles signed for the vet minimum, so the Wolves have to be happy that they got Ingles, his receding hairline, and all the abilities that come with it.

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Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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