It is widely assumed the Toronto Raptors will re-sign All-Star Kyle Lowry in July and that lands them back squarely in the untenable position of carrying four point guards again next season. So, taking all of their options into account, should the Raptors trade backup Cory Joseph even though he’s the popular local Canadian kid who’s made good?
Joseph was an upgrade at backup point guard when president Masai Ujiri signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2015. The young guard had spent four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs honing his craft, playing in 41 playoff games and collecting a championship ring in 2014.
Just turning 24-years-old at the start of his first season in Toronto, it was expected he’d continue to build on the steady improvement shown in San Antonio and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made sure this local prospect would be given every opportunity to excel.
Joseph has backed-up Lowry and Casey found additional minutes for him with regular two point guard line-ups. Over the two years Joseph has averaged better than 25 minutes a game and had some big moments, but one can be excused if they are having trouble finding “a next step taken” in Joseph’s game.
- Joseph’s three-point shot that hit 36.4 percent in 2014-15, back-slid to 27.3 percent in his first season with the Raptors and only rebounded to 35.6 percent last year.
- He is still scoring at the 13.3 points per 36 minute rate he left San Antonio with, his rebound rate is down and his assist rate hasn’t changed.
- Known for his defense, his steady steals rate of 1.2 per 36 minutes reflects the barely noticeable change at that end of the court as well.
In many ways, the soon to be 26-year-old hasn’t shown any significant improvement in the past four seasons. The shade being thrown at him from some corners notwithstanding, Joseph isn’t playing poorly. He just hasn’t gotten better.
Last year Ujiri unexpectedly signed undrafted free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, bringing his rookie total to three and his point guard total to four. Neither situation making much sense heading into a season with high expectations. If he re-signs Lowry as expected, continuing to carry four point guards still doesn’t make any sense.
The barely acceptable excuse for signing VanVleet was Wright’s injury at Summer League that was expected to keep him off the court for a couple of months into the season, however, Wright is back and looked pretty good after the All-Star break.
The 6′ 5.5″ Wright showed defensive potential covering multiple positions and the maturity expected from a 25-year-old. He looked ready to assume the backup point guard role and take his game to another level if given a chance.
The undersized VanVleet has drawn comparisons to Lowry for his style of play. The “younger” 23-year-old was still making rookie mistakes and playing too fast, but the effort, hustle and fearlessness was hard to ignore.
What the Raptors saw from Wright and VanVleet should make Ujiri very comfortable in making Joseph available in trade talks and Joseph should draw plenty of interest from teams in need of a reliable floor general.
Joseph is still young enough that another organization, if interested, will believe they can further develop his game. His contract is modest and the risk is low.
- Joseph has averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 69 career starts.
- He’s played in 71 playoff games.
- At worst, he’s a solid backup and great teammate.
How Ujiri decides to handle his four point guard “problem” remains up in the air and the Raptors opportunistic leader will undoubtedly resolve the issue based on what brings back the greatest value. However, with Luxury Tax issues expected to overhang this summer’s moves, Joseph trade rumors should be starting up any time now.