The NBA’s only remaining Canadian franchise has never had a local player on their roster during the prime of his career. Jamaal Magloire returned home to retire and is having an impact coaching up Jonas Valanciunas and being a great community ambassador, but even the franchise admits having a local Canadian kid playing on the roster for an extended period would be a very good thing.
Tristan Thompson was drafted one spot ahead of Valanciunas in 2011, Anthony Bennett was taken first overall in 2013, Andrew Wiggins was always going to be taken too high for Toronto to get him, Nik Stauskas rocketed up the draft boards and the team just missed out on Tyler Ennis. President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri decided against using either of the team’s two 2014 second round draft picks on a Canadian that he would have been stashing overseas or in the NBA D-League and it’s easy to understand wanting to avoid the pressure that situation could have evolved into.
The dilemma in Toronto has always been wanting a Canadian player, but not wanting to acquire a Canadian unless they fit on the roster. The right opportunity will present itself eventually and the right player may not be one of Canada’s potential stars or starters from recent drafts, it could be the San Antonio Spurs reserve point guard Cory Joseph.
A local Toronto kid, Joseph has represented Canada on the under-19 National team twice and the Senior Men’s National Team at the FIBA America’s in 2011 and 2013. Even though he is still just 22-years-old, he was the defacto leader of Team Canada this summer during their 11 game European exhibition tour. Joseph has lots of local credibility.
At the FIBA Americas last summer, he averaged 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists and put up a monster game against Brazil with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Canada just failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Spain, but they had a chance despite being led by a 21-year-old point guard.
On this summer’s friendly exhibition tour, Head Coach Jay Triano was splitting the minutes fairly evenly between the players, so everyone’s stats were somewhat muted, but Joseph’s leadership value to Canada stood out in the stark contrast between the back-to-back losses to Croatia. In game one, Canada lost 69-64 with Joseph putting up a line of 6/3/2, however, Triano gave Joseph the next game off and the result was an ugly 74-59 defeat. “Plain and simple, we did not shoot the ball well,” Triano said after the loss and that was Joseph’s only day off the rest of the way.
After Croatia, Triano bumped up Joseph’s playing time and it showed. Over the final 6 games Joseph averaged 14.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists including 19 point scoring efforts against Spain and Turkey. Canada was often overmatched in terms of talent and experience during the tour, but finished with a 5-6 win-loss record and it Joseph who stirred this team’s drink most of the time.
“We know that we have a lot of talent, but we haven’t done anything yet, so have to be able to put it together,” Joseph told Pro Bball Report using words that sounded eerily like those spoken by Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey this past season.
Playing for his National team has given Joseph the opportunity to show what he can do at a young age. This kid is a leader and has lots of potential.
Joseph was drafted 29th overall by the Spurs in 2011 and has spent most of his time with the team’s D-League affiliate Austin Toros, however, he played in 68 games with the Spurs last season and started 19 times. He only averaged 13.8 minutes, 5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists, but in his starts that increased to 24.9 minutes 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists and his shooting percentages improved slightly. Last year Joseph shot a career best 47.2 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three-point range.
What Joseph’s Team Canada stats and Spurs stats as a starter tend to confirm is if Joseph was given the opportunity, his per 36 minute stats of 13.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists are probable and he’s been improving fairly dramatically since arriving in San Antonio.
“I have learned a lot over my three years at San Antonio,” Joseph said. “I made great strides in bettering my game and just being professional. They are complete professionals. They take care of their bodies. I’ve learned about that a lot this year, just taking of my body, preparing myself for the game.”
Joseph is in the final year of his rookie deal with the Spurs and despite the increased playing time, he has fallen to third string among their point guards with Patty Mills signing a three-year $11 million extension this summer even though Mills injured his shoulder and isn’t expected to play until January or later. The Spurs will need Joseph at the start of the season, but by the trade deadline or during next summer’s anticipated restricted free agency, the Raptors could realistically make a play for Joseph.
Joseph fits with what Ujiri is trying to do and could have a very obvious role off the bench. Not a star or even a starter, Joseph wouldn’t have the pressure of having to be more than a backup guard in Toronto. A sixth, seventh, or even a tenth man off the bench filling the role Lou Williams is expected to hold down this season as a guard that can put up points and provide some leadership.
The next Canadian on the Raptors doesn’t have to be a star player and it might be a lot easier for the future Canadians playing in Toronto if the bar isn’t set that high straight away. Joseph makes an interesting and enticing target for Ujiri to go after and it’s just the kind of below the radar move that Ujiri is known for making.
Cory Joseph Brings Leadership To A Young Team Canada
“I’m 22-years-old, you make me sound old,” Joseph said. “I’m a young guy. I’m in good shape. I take care of my body – make sure I sleep well, eat well and I’ll be fine. I’m young.”