Average Joe Ingles is anything but for the Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY -- The jokes flood Joe Ingles' Twitter mentions during every game.

The theme is always the Average Joe appearance of the Utah Jazz wing. He's most often called a math or science teacher, which Ingles finds humorous, kidding that poor academic performance was the primary reason he turned pro at 17 in his native Australia. Accountant is also popular, among other pencil-pushing professions.

"Anything that's like a boring, receding-hairline white guy is pretty much what I get," Ingles says.

Ingles' teammates, who in fairness are frequent targets of his own biting sense of humor, are just as relentless as the amateur comedians on social media. Center Rudy Gobert, whose loud suits provide Ingles plenty of comedic fodder, refers to him as "a 40-year-old farmer." Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell, whose social media posts always get a snarky reply from Ingles, just calls him "old man," saying it fits his game, appearance and lifestyle.

Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey calls Ingles, a local cult hero of sorts who co-hosts a weekly radio show in Salt Lake City, one of the top 10 small forwards in the NBA.

And he's dead serious.

"If you said that to the casual NBA observer, that would be heresy," says Lindsey, who re-signed Ingles to a four-year, $52 million deal last summer. "But we know what we have."

Ingles' per-game numbers (10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists) don't jump off the page, but there are some advanced statistics that support Lindsey's statement. For example, Ingles ranks ninth in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus and sixth in RPM wins added among small forwards.

Ingles starred during the Jazz's recent 11-game winning streak, when he averaged 15.9 points on 53.4 percent shooting, firing at a sizzling 54.2 percent clip from 3-point range. Ingles was a team-best plus-166 in that span.

That hot streak wasn't too surprising. Ingles has developed into a premier 3-point shooter, ranking second in the league behind Golden State's Klay Thompson at 44.4 percent after finishing fourth last season.

Ingles is a key cog in the league's sixth-rated defense, versatile enough to guard multiple positions, using length and anticipation to make up for a relative lack of quickness. He's also the Jazz's best communicator, making sure his teammates know the right coverage and demanding accountability when they don't execute.

"There are certain players that when they are on the floor make the whole greater than the sum of the parts," Jazz coach Quin Snyder says. "Joe Ingles 'the part' has gotten better, and then Joe Ingles 'the teammate' makes other people better.

"There just hasn't been anything that he's not willing to do for the team. That's where he's found his game. He's found his game making the team better when he's on the floor. The things that he's been able to do to make the team better have continued to multiply."

Ingles and his now wife, Renae, were picking over their lunch in a Los Angeles restaurant and discussing what to do with their lives when he first heard from the Jazz. It was October 2014 and he had just been cut by the LA Clippers, bad news he delivered to Renae moments before she boarded her 15-hour flight from Australia.

"My heart hurt for him, knowing how hard he worked for that opportunity," says Renae, who retired last summer after a decorated pro career in netball, which Joe describes as "a weird Australian sport -- kind of like basketball without dribbling."

Ingles, who had journeyed from Australia to Spain to Israel in his pro career before giving the NBA a crack at age 27, momentarily considered taking a few months off before returning to Europe. He thought he could have helped the Clippers, and getting cut stung, causing him to wonder whether he'd ever get a legitimate shot to prove he could play in the NBA.

"It went from like an unsure lunch to, 'We've got to get back to the hotel and get our s--- really quickly and get out of here,'" Ingles says. "We literally didn't finish our meal, paid the [bill] and went straight to the airport and came here."

Ingles' initial goal after getting to Utah: survive through the mid-January deadline for his minimum salary to become guaranteed.

"He's just a smart basketball player with a big mouth and an Australian accent."
Jazz center Rudy Gobert on Joe Ingles

Injuries to teammates provided opportunity for Ingles, and opponents were eager to test him. Ingles, who has adopted the nickname "Slo-Mo Joe," recalls that every time he switched onto guards defensively as a rookie, they would wave off their big man and call for a clear-out. The implication: This slow, white dude can't guard me.

"For me, that was obviously a little bit of motivation, because I'm not just going to let you embarrass me and score or whatever," Ingles says. "It's something that makes you work harder because you don't want to be in a situation where you're on an island. It's definitely something that's happened and I've been looked at that way, but I've earned a little bit of respect."

Ingles earned a role that has steadily grown as his physique has improved and his skill set has expanded. Snyder says Ingles "has come to represent what our program is all about," proof that a player in the middle of his career can make a major jump with the Jazz, the sort of developmental success a small-market franchise must have to compete in the NBA.

"These are the types of stories that we have to have wins on, because other agents and other players notice guys like Joe Ingles," Lindsey says. "You don't have to be 22 years old. If you come to the Jazz and you want to put in the work and you're a good guy, Joe Ingles is example 1A that we can help."

By the end of last season, in part due to Rodney Hood's struggles with a nagging knee injury, Ingles had proven himself as a valuable starter for a 51-win team that claimed the franchise's first playoff series win in seven years.

That the playoff success came at the Clippers' expense made it even a bit sweeter for Ingles.

"That playoff series for me was kind of like the closing of the door," Ingles says. "It's been, 'It's gone. I don't really need to talk about the Clippers anymore because I'm here and it's four years ago now.' And we beat 'em, which was a nice way to kind of close that door."

Every mention of Ingles' free agency last summer seemingly included a reference to him being Gordon Hayward's best friend in the NBA, as well as the fact they shared an agent, Mark Bartelstein.

"I thought my free-agency story might have been a bit bigger [story] than his, but he took the cake on that one," Ingles jokes in his usual self-deprecating style.

The misconception is that the Jazz's interest in re-signing Ingles was influenced by their hopes of keeping Hayward. Lindsey insists that's far from the truth.

"It wasn't a quid-pro-quo arrangement. It was separate," Lindsey says. "Now with that said, we wanted Joe in tow before we went to meet with Gordon, just because they're friends. But we sat with Joe face to face and told Mark that the Joe decision has nothing to do with Gordon's decision.

"We wanted Joe. We wanted Joe and Renae and the Ingles family. We might have been criticized for the amount and the length of the contract, but we trusted him. We knew the type of person that he is, the type of leader that he is, how intelligent he is."

Ingles received significant interest from other teams, which was quite a contrast to the lonely lunch after being cut by the Clippers. But he never seriously considered leaving Utah, a second home for his family, which now includes 20-month-old twins Jacob and Milla. Their names are tattooed on the inside of the southpaw's left wrist, with Renae's on the outside.

"Every single time we spoke about it was that Joe wanted to be a part of the Jazz family, really wanted to be a part of it and wanted to stay here," Renae says. "The Jazz were the first team to meet with him, and I remember getting a phone call [from him]. There wasn't anything about the money, wasn't anything about the contract. It was, 'We're staying with the Jazz family.'"

Ingles received a congratulatory text from Hayward after agreeing to his deal. "Make sure you get your ass back here, too," Ingles replied. His efforts to the Jazz recruiting effort weren't enough to keep Hayward from rejoining his college coach Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics.

Ingles found out about Hayward's decision along with the rest of the Jazz but had no hard feelings.

"It was, 'Congratulations, best of luck in Boston,'" Ingles says, "and you switch your focus to who's on your team."

Fortunately for the Jazz, they landed a rookie who has proven capable of being the focal point for a team contending for a playoff spot. Ingles has been instrumental in Mitchell's immediate success, a valuable voice in his ear, as well as a playful pest on Twitter and Instagram.

"Donovan doesn't need much help," Ingles says. "He's a pretty switched-on kid. I'm happy to help him whenever I can."

It's common to see Ingles put his arm around Mitchell on the court, particularly in crunch time, and calmly offer advice and insight. Snyder says Ingles often serves as Mitchell's "eyes on the floor," with the veteran frequently helping the rookie identify and interpret situations in real time.

"He understands that I'm young and I'm learning," Mitchell says. "He's stern when he needs to be, but it's also like a light mood. It's always joyful, always happy."

That's part of the package of intangibles with Ingles. He doesn't take too much seriously, but on that short list are his responsibilities as one of the Jazz's leaders along with Gobert.

Ingles considers it important that he displays a certain kind of positive energy when he's on the bench, and his wife will let him hear about it on the rare occasions when that energy is lacking. ("It pisses me off sometimes, but it's good," he says of Renae's constructive criticism.) Teammates respect that Ingles takes as much pride in making an extra pass or the proper defensive rotation as he does in his 3-point percentage.

"He's a winning basketball player," Gobert says. "He's the kind of guy you want on your team when you want to win championships. He knows how to do a lot of things that help you win that you don't see on stats. He's a very unselfish guy, too, so it's great for our team.

"He's just a smart basketball player with a big mouth and an Australian accent."

And, as Gobert loves to point out, a receding hairline.