In order for the Utah Jazz to begin to right some of their lingering wrongs, they will need Joe Ingles to rediscover his missing shooting stroke.
Thus far, the 2019-20 Utah Jazz season has been an odd one. The team is 11-5 through 16 games, good for a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for the fourth-best mark in the West. That has also come in conjunction with a truly difficult early start to the schedule.
In other words, when just glancing at their record and considering those stats, there’s really no reason to be unhappy with how the Jazz have started. Considering all the new faces they’re working to acclimate and the fact that it won’t be long before the schedule eases up considerably, they’re in a great spot.
However, rather than a feeling of confidence and exuberance surrounding this team from its fanbase, I’d say there’s more a feeling of uncertainty. That’s because the Jazz have dropped a number of games they should have won, and almost all their wins have come in narrow fashion, including their two most recent games against lackluster opponents (the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans) where the Jazz nearly got into trouble after surrendering significant leads.
In other words, it’s hard to feel overly positive about what the Jazz have accomplished thus far, not so much because of what their record is, but rather due to how they’ve arrived there. The wins have looked shaky, the losses have been in abysmally disappointing fashion and, by and large, they haven’t yet looked anywhere close to the juggernaut they appeared capable of being coming into the season.
Now, of course, the season remains extremely young and all of that can certainly change rapidly. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I predict the Jazz to be much, much better in the next month or so. However, for that to be the case, they’re going to need to undergo several tweaks and improvements. One of those most definitely will need to come in the form of a revert to the norm for Joe Ingles.
Although Ingles is a good enough basketball player that he finds ways to impact the game on several levels beyond just scoring, there’s no denying that his shooting has been atrocious. And it’s absolutely hurting the Jazz.
Through Utah’s first 16 games, Ingles is averaging a paltry 6.4 points per game, nearly half as many as he posted in a career year a season ago. Even worse is the fact that the small point total is coming on horrendous efficiency. He’s shooting just 33 percent from the field and an appalling 29 percent from deep, both of which are career-lows by a landslide.
Of course the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic have somewhat eaten into Joe’s opportunities and touches, but the fact that he’s down nearly two three-point attempts per game from last year is another discouraging sign. His efficiency is down and so is his volume, and that’s led to a steep early decline for the long-reputed Aussie sharpshooter.
So, what exactly is going on with Joe Ingles? It could be that he’s struggling to adjust to the role of coming off the bench. However, he is still logging a significant amount of time with the starters, and while his minutes per game are down from a year ago, this has largely been by design so that he can be less fatigued come playoff time. But, ironically, Ingles has been playing as if he’s fatigued all season long as evidenced by his atrocious shooting.
Not only have his minutes been down, though, but his usage rating has taken a significant dip from a year ago as well. This has been enormously impacted by the high usage percentage of Emmanuel Mudiay (24.2) alongside whom Ingles has played a lot of minutes with the reserve group.
Perhaps a change in role as well as in usage and ball-handling responsibilities has thrown Ingles into a bit of a funk. Then again, this newly-designed squad was intended to give the Jazz shooters such as Ingles more space to operate and find open shots. But unfortunately, Ingles is down from 3.6 wide-open three-point attempts per game to just 2.2.
Sure, part of that is because his attempts are down in general, but it would still be nice to see the Aussie getting more open looks from deep as the Jazz offense is designed to do exactly that. The worse news on the matter is that so far this year, he’s shooting just 32.3 percent on wide open looks as opposed to 41.5 percent last season.
And in my mind, this decrease in wide open three-point attempts and accuracy illustrates the largest issue. Joe Ingles has become extremely trigger shy this year. We’ve seen this happen to him in seasons past to some degree, but he’s always seemed to climb out of it and still step up to hit big shots. Unfortunately, he’s not been able to get out of that slump so far this year.
It’s clear that Ingles’ struggles have shaken his confidence somewhat and it’s snowballing to further limit his shooting prowess. And these struggles aren’t just a 2019-20 thing, but they go well back into last year. Not only did his three-point percentage take a significant dip in 2018-19, but he was horrendous in the playoffs that year, struggled in FIBA play and has gotten off to a poor start now.
Combine all that with the obvious hesitation Joe shows on the floor when he has three-point opportunities, and it’s apparent that this slump has become quite a serious one, particularly in regards to his mental approach to shooting.
Any logical person would likely opine that Ingles is simply too good of a shooter to stay in this rut for long. But unfortunately, after 16 games this season, there still doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Joe Ingles’ shooting woes have been a major issue for the Jazz and one of many problems contributing to their lackluster offense.
If Utah is to reach its ceiling this season, and particularly if its second unit is ever going to truly be a factor, Joe Ingles is going to have to find his shot. We’re not yet to the point where panic is justified, but Jazz fans certainly have every right to be a little bit worried by this troubling and lingering trend.