Utah Jazz: Underdog hero Joe Ingles defied the odds in a big, bad way

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 14: Joe Ingles #2 of the Utah Jazz loses control, of the ball during the first half of a game against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena on February 14, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 14: Joe Ingles #2 of the Utah Jazz loses control, of the ball during the first half of a game against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena on February 14, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles hit a big milestone in his NBA career last season. The fact that he’s in the league at all feels like a small miracle.

This past season, Joe Ingles surpassed 200 consecutive games played for the Utah Jazz. By year’s end, that streak was at 222, a top-five mark among active NBA players. Obviously, that’s an incredible feat for any player. It’s particularly sweet, though, for a thirty-something hoops vagabond who looks more like a math teacher or custodial engineer than a baller.

Seriously, can we all just take a quick moment and marvel at Ingles’ unlikely success? This is going to be a bit stream-of-consciousnessy, but hey… it’s August, right?

Make no mistake about it, the fact that Ingles’ NBA career as a whole ever reached 200 games in its totality feels like a small miracle. Just a few, short years ago, he was an afterthought; a back-of-the-bench guy whose only purpose was seemingly to help provide Dante Exum with a soft landing. Before that, he was playing in Israel.

Now, he’s somehow become one of the best players in the league at his position. He defied the odds in a big, bad way.

Let’s rewind to 2014.

After spending the brunt of his basketball life in every corner of the globe but the mecca that is the United States and the NBA, a 27-year-old Ingles was finally on the cusp of transitioning to the game’s grandest stage with the LA Clippers. In the end, he was among the final cuts made by Doc Rivers ahead of the 2014-15 season.

The story could have ended there. After having turned down a contract offer with the Memphis Grizzlies years before, the near-miss in La-La Land was a gut-punch. Years of work were seemingly culminating in no payout.

“When this came along [with] the Clippers and we thought it was a good situation there and it didn’t work out. It was like, now we’ve been close twice and it’s failed, it’s like — is this ever going to happen?” Ingles told Adrian Wojnarowski back in 2016.

That’s when the Jazz came calling. And since that time, all Ingles has done is continue to defy expectations.

He began year one as little more than a fourth or fifth wing, with Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood all taking spots in the pecking order above him. In year two, he finished 11th on the team in minutes played per game. In 2018, he’s a starter for a top-four squad in the wild Western Conference and one of the league’s sharpest shooters.

On perseverance alone, Ingles is an underdog hero. Even as people like Colin Cowherd feel compelled to slag him on national radio. However, the numbers go to show that Slow-Mo’ Joe is much more than a cult figure.

Last season, he ranked fifth among all of the NBA’s small forwards in real plus/minus at 3.5, finishing just 0.11 behind Kevin Durant and outpacing the likes of Paul George and Jayson Tatum. Meanwhile, he was fifth in the league in 3-point shooting at 44 percent, and his career mark of 41.6 percent ranks 14th-best in NBA history.

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And despite Cowherd’s assertion that Ingles can’t guard a bar stool, he has posted a positive defensive box plus/minus score and opponents have had a negative field goal percentage differential when he’s the nearest defender every year he’s been in the league.

Here’s my personal favorite line on Ingles, courtesy of SLC Dunk’s Andy Bailey: the only player in NBA history who matches or exceeds Ingles’ career marks for threes made, effective field goal percentage, assist percentage and steal percentage is Stephen Curry.

Yes, that Stephen Curry.

The craziest thing about all of this is that he continues to get better; even at an age when most players are starting to think about life after basketball.

Numbers aside, though, Ingles just makes things click on the hardwood. Here’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder told ESPN’s Tim McMahon about him in March —

"“There are certain players that when they are on the floor make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Joe Ingles ‘the part’ has gotten better, and then Joe Ingles ‘the teammate’ makes other people better. There just hasn’t been anything that he’s not willing to do for the team. That’s where he’s found his game. He’s found his game making the team better when he’s on the floor. The things that he’s been able to do to make the team better have continued to multiply.”"

The Jazz are a team brimming with big-time stories. Donovan Mitchell‘s meteoric rise, Rudy Gobert‘s otherworldly ability to protect the rim and the keen direction of Quin Snyder and Dennis Lindsey immediately come to mind.

But Ingles’ road from obscurity to being a bona fide stud in the best league in the world may be the best story of all.