Utah Jazz: Has Joe Ingles moved ahead of Gordon Hayward?

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles began his NBA career as a back-end depth piece behind budding All-Star Gordon Hayward. Now, Ingles may have surpassed his former teammate.

It’s crazy to think about — even now, the most bitter Utah Jazz fan might have a hard time saying — but it may just be true

The premise: Joe Ingles has supassed embattled former Jazzman Gordon Hayward in the hierarchy of NBA small forwards.

Wild, right? After all, it was only a few, short years ago that Ingles was a virtual unknown from the Land Down Under who finagled his way into a deal with the Jazz after the LA Clippers had sent him packing in the preseason.

At the time, it seemed his only functions on the team would be to A) babysit Dante Exum and B) provide emergency depth behind Hayward, the go-to guy.

But with Ingles rising alongside his team and Hayward struggling to return to form with the Boston Celtics after fracturing his leg, I think you can (and should) make the argument that the Jazz still have the better player.

As it happens, ESPN agrees with me.

The Worldwide Leader is working through its annual Top 100 rankings of NBA players and Nos. 100 through 51 dropped on Monday. Both Hayward and Ingles hit the list in this range and — surprise, surprise — Ingles (No. 62) came in three spots higher than Hayward (No. 65).

Not too long ago that would have been unfathomable, even if these lists are super subjective. At this point, though, I would say that the numbers objectively show Ingles has been the better player recently.

Check out this rundown from 2018-19 —

PPG: Ingles (12.1), Hayward (11.5)
RPG: Ingles (4.0), Hayward (4.5)
APG: Ingles: (5.7), Hayward (3.4)
eFG%: Ingles (.565), Hayward (.527)
Net Rtg: Ingles (7.7), Hayward (5.2)
Net Swing: Ingles (8.0), Hayward (1.1)
Real +/-: Ingles (2.91), Hayward (0.41)
Box +/-: Ingles (1.8), Hayward (0.5)
VORP: Ingles (2.5), Hayward (1.2)
Win Shares: Ingles (6.0), Hayward (4.9)

Of course, the best number for Jazz fans is player salary; Ingles collected $13 million from Utah last season while the C’s had to flip-flop those numbers to $31 million to pay Hayward.

Numbers aside, even in a down year, Ingles just looked the part of an integral piece for a team on the rise while Hayward’s fit in Boston was awkward last season. Slow-Mo’ Joe’s arc as a professional hoopster continues to be one of the most incredible we’ve seen in a long time.

All that being said, though, even if we can agree that Ingles is the better player currently, we probably have to put a big, old asterisk at the end of that statement. At top form, Hayward was a top 30 player in the Association, and with more time between now and his injury, odds are he’ll look a lot more like his old self in 2019-20.

For his part, C’s big man (and another former Jazzman) Enes Kanter sees another All-Star nod in Hayward’s future. Said Kanter, via NBC Sports Boston’s Celtic Talk Podcast —

“Gordon Hayward – I think he should definitely start eyeing the All-Star Game. He had a very bad injury, but I see his work ethic, he’s been doing an amazing job.”

“I just actually played against him and he looked amazing. Very good shape, lot of confidence and he is comfortable out here.”

I may be in the minority in Jazzland, but I certainly hope that Kanter’s comments are on the money.

Over his last two years in the 801, Hayward was a legitimate go-to scorer for a very good basketball team. And while taking on a similar mantle with the Celtics is probably out with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum on the roster, there’s no reason he can’t by a high-level No. 2 for a high-level playoff team.

Next: Utah Jazz: Emmanuel Mudiay could end up being more important than we realize

Whether he can make it happen is the $30 million question facing Boston right now. In Utah, though, Jazz fans can find solace in the fact that, despite losing their last All-Star, they still have the best player in this equation.

For the time being.

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