How Slow-Mo Joe Is Picking Apart The Clippers

After being unceremoniously cut by the Clippers in 2014, Joe Ingles is tasting revenge against his former team. The slow-footed forward has been Utah's biggest playmaker this postseason.
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No one will argue that a 14-hour flight from Australia to Los Angeles isn't a long time to sit on an airplane. But for Renae Hallinan—Renae Ingles-to-be—it was nothing compared to the years of waiting for Joe’s breakthrough. Her fiancé had spent years worming his way through pro leagues in Australia, Spain and Israel trying to get his shot in the NBA. And here he was, just hours away from making the Los Angeles Clippers’ regular season roster.

Then backup point guard Jordan Farmar got hurt, and the Clippers brass decided the team couldn’t enter the season with just one healthy point guard. Ingles was the odd man out. When Renae took off, she was expecting to land and watch Joe's debut. When she landed, he was jobless.

Even though Ingles insists there’s no hard feelings, you know what they say about payback. And the Clippers are experiencing it right now.

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In a league dominated by lightning-quick guards breaking ankles, forwards scoring like there’s no tomorrow and seven-footers skying for alley-oops, Ingles provides quite the juxtaposition from the norm. He’s 6'8" and over 220 pounds, but you’ll rarely see him attack the rim. To call an NBA player unathletic would be unfair, but among the world’s best athletes, Ingles lacks in that category. His playing style earned him the nickname “Slow–Mo Joe,” but he fits in perfectly with Utah’s plodding pace—no team played at a slower tempo this season than the Jazz. And while Ingles will never blow by you with speed, his mental acuity is a step ahead of the competition. He sees the floor very well and has become one of the Jazz's best facilitators. Ingles might be one of the league’s most unconventional playmakers, but he's a vital cog in the Jazz’s scheme, leading the team with 5.3 assists per game during the playoffs.

Ingles is at his best as the primary ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations. He comes off screens tightly; no pick is wasted. He is endlessly patient, navigating his way in and out of the lane, creating angles for pocket passes to a plethora of athletic post finishers, mainly Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. In a way, he is so effective because of what he is not rather than what he is. In the clip below, Ingles comes off a Favors screen and gets into space. Ingles shot just 7.3% of his shots this year between three and 10 feet, and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan backs off, knowing that Ingles isn’t a threat to shoot a pull-up jumper or floater. But after Ingles’s second dribble off the screen, Jordan finds himself in no man’s land, stuck between Ingles coming toward him and Favors rolling to the basket. As soon as Jordan floats out too far from the hoop, Ingles fires a pinpoint bounce pass to Favors for a simple finish.

Later in the game, the Clippers made an adjustment, with Jordan extending his defense closer to the initial screen so Ingles can’t get going downhill and Mo Speights dropping into the lane to help on the rolling big man. Ingles foils this plan, though, by skipping the ball to Boris Diaw, who swings it to George Hill for a corner three. It’s not a play that earns Ingles anything in the stat sheet. But for a Jazz team that relies on ball movement rather than individual play, it’s the perfect decision.

The versatile Ingles can also serve as a primary ball-handler in the middle of the court. When J.J. Redick tries to jump the screen, Ingles crosses over to his non-dominant right hand, creates space just inside the three-point arc and then throws a difficult left-handed bounce pass while moving to his right, hitting Favors in stride for another easy bucket.

But there’s more to his game than bounce passes to big men. If you decide to go under the screen, as Jamal Crawford does here, Ingles is willing to fire off the dribble. He was, after all, the third-best three-point shooter in the league this year, shooting over 44% from downtown.

Defending Ingles is frustrating because he simply doesn’t speed up; his game doesn’t change no matter how much you defend him. You can show him different looks. You can try to bait him into making mistakes. You can try to take away his primary option—the rolling big man—and he’ll pass over the defense. He understands his limitations athletically, too. In the clip below, instead of challenging Jordan at the rim, he kicks it out to Gordon Hayward. Notice, too, that the moment when he fires off the pass, four of the five Clippers were turned watching Ingles. It’s instinctive to look at the man with the ball when he’s two feet away from the rim—but Ingles makes them pay.

Similarly, Ingles attracts the attention of all five Clippers here before making a simple bounce pass along the baseline for a Hayward corner three. For a guy who is among the least athletic forwards in the NBA, he certainly causes defenses a lot of trouble.

In a huge Game 4 victory, Ingles handed out 11 assists—the only Jazz player this season to record more than eight in a game—while playing 38 minutes (Gordon Hayward played just nine minutes due to food poisoning). The former Los Angeles castoff added six rebounds and two huge three-pointers down the stretch to help the Jazz even up the series at 2-2, including this dagger with under a minute left.

Revenge is a dish best served cold-blooded.