One of this season’s most underrated and under-appreciated free agent acquisitions has been the Raptors bringing the Spurs free agent point guard Cory Joseph home to Toronto. Overshadowed by All-Star Tony Parker and slotted in behind Patty Mills on the Spurs depth chart, many people have chosen to just ignore what Joseph was able to accomplish in San Antonio. This kid is primed to surprise everyone as he finally gets his opportunity to be in the spotlight this year.
“Cory keeps getting better,” said two-time NBA MVP and Team Canada general manager Steve Nash. “I don’t think a lot of people thought he was an NBA player after his first year with the Spurs and he has continued to get better and better and better and look where he is now. He is a valued NBA player. Cory is a tough kid, he plays hard, he competes and he keeps getting better and he’s been rewarded for it.
“He is a key part of our team (Canada), his leadership and playmaking abilities are going to be very big for us. ”
Joseph played in 79 regular season games with the Spurs last year averaging 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 18.3 minutes while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range. However, in 14 starts he averaged 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 34.6 minutes and his shooting percentages were better, 56.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three.
Known for his defense, Joseph gets critiqued for having a small sample size as an effective offensive threat, however, last’s year’s excellent shooting shouldn’t have been a surprise. In 2013-14, Joseph cracked the tough Spurs rotation and although he only got limited minutes off the bench, in his 19 starts, he averaged 24.9 minutes, 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists while hitting on 46.2 percent of his shots and 33.3 percent from deep. His offense in 2014-15 didn’t just drop out of the sky.
“On the Spurs nobody gets anything handed to you,” Joseph said. “It helped me a lot. I’ve had to work for everything that I’ve got.”
The Spurs are a remarkable franchise and have a strong record of developing players, however, that isn’t always enough. It’s still up to the individual to make significant strides in the off season and Joseph has been developing his skills with Canada’s National Team program going back to before he turned professional.
Joseph starred with Canada’s under 19 team at the FIBA Americas in 2009 and played with the Senior Men’s National Team in 2011. However, his break out year with Team Canada came in the summer of 2013 at the FIBA Americas where over 8 games he averaged 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 46.6 percent from the field as the starting point guard.
“I definitely put a lot on my shoulders as a point guard and as a leader,” Joseph told Pro Bball Report prior to the 2013 tournament. “I have to lead this team. I feel that I can be that extension of the coach on the court and I am just trying to lead this team to get Ws. I am comfortable in the role. I have been doing it all my life in other programs.”
FIBA success was followed by finally breaking into the Spurs rotation in their 2013-14 championship season, but Joseph wasn’t done with Team Canada. The next summer he was back at it as Canada went on an 11-game European exhibition tour against some top National Teams including Spain, Italy and Serbia. As the team leader and starting point guard Joseph averaged 12.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists (taken from the boxscores in Pro Bball Report’s archives). These games were all about player and team development for Canada, but it was painfully obvious when Joseph wasn’t on the court to direct the offense.
Joseph returned from the summer of 2014 to assume his biggest role yet with the Spurs and his best NBA season by far. That seemingly small sample size of offensive production doesn’t look quite so insignificant when looked at over two summers leading Team Canada and the past two seasons starting a combined total of 33 games with the iconic Spurs.
Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri has wanted a Canadian player on his roster for a while, but it had to be the right Canadian player. Someone that could contribute, have an impact and fill a role and in the typical Ujiri acquisition, an exciting young player who could develop into something more than expected.
“(Joseph is) a two-way player, somebody that pushes the ball. A composed player, obviously he is a young player in the NBA, but he might be a young vet,” Ujiri said. “He has been a part of a championship team we all look up to. He brings competitiveness. I think he brings a complement to Kyle Lowry who is an All-Star and I think will play at times together.”
While being the primary backup point guard is Joseph’s main role with the Raptors, it’s in the two point guard lineups playing with Lowry that will give Joseph his opportunity for significant minutes on the court.
“I am used to the role already,” Joseph said. “(Two guard lineup) is something I’ve done before. We used to do that in San Antonio a lot, me and Patty (Mills), me and Manu (Ginobili), me and Tony (Parker), that two point guards out there. I used to guard the two (guard) a lot, so I am comfortable with that. I feel that I could guard that position pretty well.”
Joseph won’t be being asked to do anything out of his comfort zone from his time in San Antonio. He’ll only be asked to do it more often and longer. A natural progression for a 24-year-old player starting his fifth NBA season.
“Obviously being in San Antonio for four years helped me a lot,” Joseph said. “Playing behind All-Star point guard Tony Parker, learning from great players, I learned from a great coach obviously, it helped me a lot. I feel like I made strides every year and that’s what I am going to continue to do here in Toronto.”
Joseph is back playing for Canada again this summer and is the starting point guard on the best team his Country has ever assembled. On September 1st, Canada will play their first game at the 2015 FIBA Americas with the hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio by grabbing a top two finish. Joseph is Canada’s most FIBA experienced player and might be their best player at this tournament – bearing a breakout by Andrew Wiggins.
Joseph knows he is still learning and developing his craft. He knows his role on the Raptors and he plans on picking up more tricks of the trade from the All-Star Lowry. This kid has been the underdog, the fighter, the guy who has had to learn to advance and earn respect every step of the way as a basketball player. Now that he’s home and he’s ready, Joseph is going to surprise a lot of people with his play.
In the simplest of terms, GM Masai Ujiri has exchanged the outbound Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough for the inbound Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo