The warmup pants go first, flying through the air and into the arms of a waiting ball boy. Next comes a towel and then a jacket, launched from somewhere in the huddle of players on the sideline. It is the first timeout of the game, midway through the first quarter, and Joe Ingles emerges from the crowd, marches toward the scorer’s table, and checks in for the first time that night.
After spending the last three seasons as a regular starter for the Utah Jazz, Ingles has moved back to the bench, embracing his role as the team’s sixth man. The veteran wing says his new job is much like his old one, at least on the surface. He still arrives at the arena at the same time, still shoots the same shots during warmups, still drinks the same coffee.
“The only thing different for me is that I’m not out there at the tip,” Ingles says.
That, however, doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Even Ingles will admit there are differences between starting and coming off the bench—differences he is still adjusting to early on in this season.
“There’s definitely a preparation component,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s used to hearing his name announced and starting” and playing straightaway.
So Snyder has intentionally tried to get Ingles into the game at the same time, usually the first timeout of the quarter so that he can standardize his new pregame routine. It’s a routine he has started to shape with input from other sixth men and bench players around the league. Ingles has spoken to Spurs guard Patty Mills and New Orleans sharpshooter JJ Redick, seeking advice.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve come off the bench,” Ingles said. “I’m just figuring out different ways, what they do, their routines. If there’s anything I can steal or use to help our team win games, I’m going to do it.”
Snyder believes Ingles transition will be successful and happen quickly. “Joe assimilates quickly as well because he can do a lot of things,” Snyder said recently. The coach also felt that Ingles’ role would have similarities to the one he had last year. “Last year, we started him, but he came out quickly and then he kind of anchored a group on the bench. In some way, his role isn’t drastically different than it may appear,” Snyder said.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown also believes Ingles has the makings of a great sixth man, and Brown has seen starters successful become sixth men before. When Brown was with the San Antonio Spurs, they asked Manu Ginobili, an All-Star, to make the transition.
“If you get to mature players, and he is one of those,” said Brown, who coached Ingles with the Australian national team, “they can find a positive and jump into the game even quicker coming off the bench.”
Ingles enjoyed his role as a starter but said he sees major benefits to his move.
“I liked starting. I liked matching up with the best of the best players who got the start. Taking on that challenge,” Ingles said on The Zone Sports Network recently. “I think the cool part, at least it is for me. You get to watch the game. Read the game. See how the referees are calling it. See how the other team is playing defensively. Seeing what they’re doing offensively. … There’s a very different way of going about it.”
After player introductions, Ingles shakes hands with everyone on the bench and then stands in the corner. He is already wrapped with heat packs and when he eventually takes his seat on the bench, he uses a massage gun to help keep his body warm. When Ingles checked in Wednesday night, with 6:20 to play in the first quarter, he wanted to get into the action right away. But on the first possession of the game, he found himself drifting toward the corner as a play unfolded. Then he sprinted back on defense, and pressured his man, looking for another way to get himself into the game. His man blew past him for an easy dunk.
“It’s hard to start cold,” Ingles said with a grin afterward. “It’s something I’ll keep trying to figure out.”
It wouldn’t take long for Ingles to get going, though. As he had watched from the bench, he had seen Philly center Joel Embiid playing deep on defense, practically under the rim, opening up mid-range shots for Donovan Mitchell and Ingles strategized ways to make an impact himself offensively. Ingles finished with 16 points, two rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes.
“I feel more and more comfortable each game,” Ingles said. “It’s definitely different from starting. You just figure it out along the way.”
Snyder knows Ingles will.
“He takes pride in how he plays no matter when he’s playing,” the coach said.