One of the Milwaukee Bucks’ bigger postseason acquisitions, Joe Ingles is still recovering from an ACL injury — the first major one of his eight-year professional career. Per ESPN’s John Collier, Ingles could be ready to play sometime in December or January. General manager Jon Horst opined that a December timeline for Ingles’ return is probably too optimistic, with a January return seeming more realistic, but added that it is still too early in the recovery process to say for sure.
Though his illustrious career has had its fair share of highlights, his most recent season was still one of his low points thus far. At this point, the differences between what Ingles has done and what he can still do at age 35 are night and day.
With the Bucks still tinkering with possible lineups in the preseason, now is as good a time as any to examine what this most recent iteration of Ingles can bring to the win-now Milwaukee Bucks. Here’s a bit of what the film and stats show us.
What Ingles brings to the Bucks offense
When Milwaukee bowed out against the Boston Celtics in seven games, it was largely due to the offensive load Giannis Antetokounmpo was forced to carry in the absence of Khris Middleton. It’s not meant to take away from the success of the eventual Eastern Conference champions: the Celtics were facing a team with substantially less playmaking and shot-creation.
This is likely what made Ingles so appealing an option to general manager Jon Horst: when examining his offensive fit, there’s no better place to start than his potential play next to Antetokounmpo in the pick-and-roll. After Ingles spent years flanked by Rudy Gobert — also a rim-running lob threat — it’s exciting to think about the new dimension his playmaking opens up for the Bucks.
The first thing I thought about was pick and roll with Giannis. Seems like it will make things very easy.Joe Ingles on his move to Milwaukee
“I’m excited to play with Giannis. The first thing I thought about was pick and roll with Giannis. Seems like it will make things very easy. I’ve heard Grayson say its different being that open,” he was quoted as saying during the team’s media day on September 26.
Just a cursory glance at his established chemistry with the similarly-built Gobert should tell you all you need to know about their looming partnership. Whether in transition or off the pick-and-roll, it’s not hard to imagine Antetokounmpo at the receiving end of his passes in these clips.
“Definitely, my thing my whole career has been playmaking, I think it’s my best attribute. I think my passing is something that, for me, brings as much joy as scoring or shooting or whatever. I think I can make an impact there,” he said.
Standing at 6-foot-8, he has the size but not so much the strength or athleticism to leverage that to create advantages for himself and others. His game has always been predicated on his understanding of the game, which translates into a cool, controlled engine to keep the ball moving while the team looks for its shots.
Definitely, my thing my whole career has been playmaking, I think it’s my best attribute.Passing brings Ingles as much joy as scoring
Though he was definitely something of a near-elite deep-ball shooter once upon a time, the 2021-22 season was a down year for the Aussie in that regard. He only made 34.7 percent of his five three-pointers per game in 45 games pre-injury.
Make no mistake, though: while his shot comes together, Joe is still more than capable of scoring the basketball. He’s decisive at relocating off inside passes to get himself open for the catch-and-shoot J. And numbers aside, he’s shown he’s more than capable of hitting shots in transition, off the catch, and off the dribble throughout his career — which can certainly be an asset in possessions where Antetokounmpo is handling the ball on offense. Think handoffs and kickouts here; he’s certainly not lacking in confidence to let it fly, which is precisely the kind of player that Budenholzer’s system and Antetokounmpo’s inward gravity reward.
When he’s not feeding the ball to his big men, Ingles is more than capable of taking it all the way to the hole on his own. He has sound fundamentals operating in the pick-and-roll, and he has this fake into a layup that he likes to break out a couple times per game.
He’s not going to break ankles with a dizzying bag of dribble moves or beat defenders with deceptive strength and athleticism — it’s clear he’s past that point in his physical prime now. Instead, he utilizes a surprisingly robust array of fakes, misdirection, and fundamental basketball IQ. He doesn’t have spots to get to per se, but he seems to know what he wants to do at all times to make sure the ball ends up in the basket.
Ol’ Joe is also able to show off the vision that only a 6-foot-8 frame affords you. His passing isn’t the flashiest, but it’s definitely among the snappiest in the league. Perhaps due in part to his experience in international leagues as well, Ingles’ passing — particularly out of the pick and roll — is a thing of beauty.
His size makes him uniquely equipped to pinpoint passing angles that make entry passes a breeze to execute. He’s able to consistently hit on-point passes to the roll man almost regardless of the angles afforded to him, which bodes well next to a perennial lob threat and slasher like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
When he’s not making the play himself, he’s an elite play connector who can pounce on advantages by zipping the ball to places that can hurt the defense when the opposition is scrambling. He’s also masterful at finding cutting teammates off the ball and hitting perimeter scorers when they’re open; if the Greek Freak passes it out of a double, Joe is able to swing the ball around the perimeter and keep the offense moving much like a point guard would.
In the first clip above, Ingles is able to flow directly into a handoff once the drive off the pick-and-roll yields nothing. Almost instantaneously, he relocates to the corner off the handoff and knocks down the open triple. It’s not a set play by any means, but it’s all so seamless that it might as well be. It’s this kind of quick thinking that fans can expect will elevate an often stagnant Bucks offense.
The next few plays illustrate his still-elite play-connecting at 35. Ingles recognizes the defense collapsing on Donovan Mitchell’s drive and makes the quick decision to whip it to Royce O’Neale in the corner as his defender closes out.
Speaking of relocating, Joe is able to leverage his gravity and his movement within the flow of the offense to create advantages for his teammates. Regardless of his down year, it’s clear he still commands respect from most defenses after building up a reputation of being a knockdown shooter through the years. Just look at these masterful examples in the next few clips.
Joe’s history as a dogged defender
Most clips of his latest season show a much slower Ingles who often gets beat on drives and stuck on screens but is still able to get in a good contest and get stops due to his size and length.
One thing for me defensively especially was to try and be as annoying as possible.Ingles shares his defensive philosophy
“Joe is one of the ones you hate to play against. He’s an asshole playing against him, not gonna lie…He’s kinda dirty and talks trash, boy. But now that’s he on my team, I’m happy,” Jrue Holiday was quoted as saying of Ingles at the Bucks’ media day.
Just look at how often he gets beat, whether off the dribble or after robust screens. And then look at the effort to get back into position and cause the stop.
The statistics from last season also back his on-court impact up on that end. Cleaning the Glass and PBP Stats say the Jazz held opponents to 6.0 whole points less when Ingles was on the floor vs when he was on the bench. NBA Stats matchup data says he held forwards to 48% and guards to 41% shooting when he was the closest defender.
“One thing for me defensively especially was to try and be as annoying as possible. Like I know I’m not the most athletic guy; I’m not gonna beat a lot of people in a sprint up and down the court, but I know I can read the game well [and] I know what guys wanna do,” Ingles also told reporters at Bucks’ media day.
“I think defensively, what the team can do already, I think me being a bit of a pest out there can be something a little bit different. I’m excited to get out there with Bobby [Portis] and fire him up a little more than he already does and hype him up some more,” he also said.
Ingles seems to be acutely aware of his defensive shortcomings but is able to find ways to contribute on that end regardless. If his size gives him a playmaking advantage on offense, it covers up a multitude of wrongs on the other. His screen navigation is not what it once was, but he’s never lacking in effort and always manages to get his hand up in the tick of time. In these clips, his size is more than enough to still bother the shot once he gets back into the play.
He’s never been the best defender at the point of attack. There’s a significant change in his matchup data in between the regular season and the playoffs, when the pace of the game gets much slower and teams are more prone to go matchup-hunting in the isolation. In the postseason, he gives up closer to 60% efficiency to his matchups, which is not a good number at all.
Bucks fans ought to temper expectations on Ingles’ ability on this end of the floor. At the end of the day, he’s still a smart player with good size who will be in the right spots most of the time as the team rotates through defense.
His off-ball defense is a far different story. His reads are just as snappy on defense than on the opposite end of the floor; he knows when a play is setting up shooters in the corner, and when the perfect time to bring help is.
In a Bucks system built around funneling scorers to the twin towers of Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s hard to ask for more than that from a defender.
Ingles doesn’t exactly boast eye-popping numbers, but the fact that he has the versatility to take on either position is what makes Ingles such a compelling defender for this Bucks team. CtG says he spent 51 percent of his time last season at small forward while playing out the remaining 49 as a power forward.
As Ingles rehabs, Bucks fans should feel confident knowing they have another dog waiting in the wings. It may just be a matter of rehabbing and coming back strong from here on out for the Aussie.
“Just gonna keep taking it week-by-week at the moment and trying to tick these boxes off as we go,” Ingles said. “Obviously the end goal is to get out there as soon as possible, with saying that as healthy as I can as well. There’s been some ups and downs for sure, probably downs that I’d never thought I’d go through but it’s a part of the process. It comes with the job, injuries, and hopefully my injuries are behind me now and I can go ahead and help this team.”