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The Utah Jazz entered the 2017 NBA free agency period with three key questions to answer. As they head into Sunday, it looks like they’re only going to have one big one left.
Utah acted quickly on the eve of free agency on Friday, swinging a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves to import Ricky Rubio, thus answering one big question — do we re-sign incumbent point guard George Hill? — with a big “Negatory, good buddy.” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey followed up on Saturday by agreeing to terms with Joe Ingles before the Australian swingman could sign an offer sheet elsewhere in restricted free agency.
The price of keeping Ingles from fully testing his market: four years and $52 million, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports. Not a bad turnaround for a guy who spent the first eight seasons of his pro career playing in Australia, Spain and Israel, and got dropped in training camp by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015, only to turn into a valuable role player on a 50-win team (that, by the way, knocked of those Clippers in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs).
You might be thinking to yourself, “That seems like quite a bit of money for an about-to-turn-30-year-old who averaged 7.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 24 minutes a game last year.” To that I would say: A) I can’t believe you knew those stats off the top of your head; B) it’s $8 million less than the Orlando Magic were apparently considering paying him; and C) an already good Jazz team played a bit better with Ingles on the floor than off it, thanks in part to his 3-point marksmanship and ability to handle a variety of defensive assignments.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Ingles doesn’t look exceptionally fast or explosive — there’s a reason they call him “Slo Mo Joe” — but he’s incredibly adept at being in the right place at the right time defensively. He’s big and burly enough to bang with bigger small forwards and some fours, smart enough about using footwork, angles and length to stay with smaller/quicker ball-handlers, opportunistic when he gets a chance to knock the ball loose (a shade under two steals per 36 minutes of floor time) and knows exactly where to be on his help rotations away from the ball.
Add that to a dead-eye stroke that saw him knock down 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers during the regular season, and an extra-pass instinct that saw him average six assists per 100 possessions with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-to-1, and you’re talking about a pretty valuable piece of the puzzle for a Jazz team that has improved in each of the last four years and could be on the cusp of sustained contention.
The concern, if you’re a Jazz fan, is that Ingles’ career-best 3-point shooting last season was the exception rather than the rule, after he’d shot 35.6 percent and 38.6 percent from deep in his first two seasons in Utah. On top of that, the full four-year deal will carry him into his mid-30s, meaning there’s a chance the Jazz will paying eight figures for the former Barcelona and Maccabi Tel Aviv star’s declining years; the contract could make Lindsey wince a bit in a couple of years.
If Ingles can stave off that decline, though, he’s exactly the sort of wing player that every good NBA team needs nowadays — capable of stretching the floor, making some plays off the bounce, defending multiple positions, doing it all without needing to be a focal point, and being generally well-liked by the dudes around him in the process.
Speaking of which:
No, the Jazz didn’t re-sign Ingles because he’s Hayward’s buddy, and no, Hayward’s not going to re-sign in Utah just because Lindsey kept his friend around. But if Hayward’s questions moving forward were who was going to play point and whether he’d have adequate aid on the wing, the Jazz can head into their Monday meeting with him and say they’ve done their level best to answer them. Whether that’ll be enough to convince him to stay put rather than absconding to Boston or Miami remains to be seen; now, though, we know his pal Joe’s going to be taken care of either way.
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