I’ll admit that on draft night when Cory Joseph’s name was called I was of those skeptics who quickly said the young guard wasn’t ready for the NBA. I was of the crowd to say he should have stayed at the University of Texas for a few more seasons.
But, that same night, San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford was happy that Joseph fell to the Spurs in the draft, “We knew we had the 29th pick and the guy we were focused on was Cory and to have that play out is exciting for us.”
The summer rolled on and I watched Joseph play with Canada in the FIBA Americas tournament in September. This was my first real glimpse of Joseph as I’m not a big college hoops fan until March Madness begins.
As I watched Joseph, I did see his footwork and quickness on the defensive end. He looked really fast and was keeping up with every point guard Canada faced from half court to full court in one-on-one coverage.
On the offensive side of the ball, his jumper looked inconsistent and he didn’t look like the type of player who could easily get to the rim so I still had the D-League Austin Toros stamp on Joseph’s forehead even after observing him play against some of the world’s best international players.
This past Saturday, I saw Joseph for the first time as he faced the Houston Rockets. Though the Spurs lost, Joseph didn’t look as bad as I projected as he finished the game with four points, two rebounds, one assist, and one steal in 19 minutes after shooting 2-of-7 from the field. On Wednesday in just his second preseason game, he followed his performance with an even better game by scoring seven points, one rebound, one assist, and one steal while shooting 50% from the field and going 3-of-5 from the free throw line in 14 minutes of action.
I already liked Joseph’s on-the-ball defense but on Wednesday I was more impressed by his offense. He is really good at moving without the ball. He’s not your typical Spur who just camps out in the corner and waits for the ball to come to him. He’s actively running all over the perimeter and slashing in the paint from time-to-time. On one occasion, veteran Tim Duncan found Joseph slashing down the paint. Duncan gave Joseph the ball and he scored on the easy alley-oop. Joseph even followed Tony Parker by scoring with his own teardrop.
Joseph looked so comfortable in the game that I tweeted when he went up to head coach Gregg Popovich to let him know that he made a mistake, Popovich smiled at the young guard. When do you hear of this? Pop smiling at a rookie point guard? Former Spurs guard Beno Udrih would think the world is going to end tomorrow.
Even after the game, coach Popovich was impressed with Joseph’s game, “He was a lot more comfortable then the first game in Houston,” said Popovich, “he was more aggressive and more comfortable on both ends of the court, so that was nice to see.”
After the game, I spoke with Rockets point guard Jonny Flynn who told me he has high hopes for Joseph, “We have a good relationship,” said Flynn, “we have the same agent so you know we be in contact with each other but he’s a great player.”
Flynn continued, “He’s great for this system, you know I was just telling him and he was just telling me he’s soaking up everything Tony Parker’s telling him,” Flynn said of Joseph, “all these guys, Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson. One day he’s gonna come in and this is gonna be his show. He’s gonna be a great player for years to come.”
After Wednesday’s game, Joseph himself said he’s becoming more comfortable after getting his first his first rep in on Saturday, “It felt definitely more comfortable,” said Joseph to Project Spurs, “I’m starting to get to know my teammates better and starting to know what coach Pop wants. It felt like it slowed down since the first game.”
Joseph is also adjusting from the collegiate game he played in at Texas to the NBA where the game is so much faster both physically and mentally, “The speed has gone up a notch, with the 24-second shot clock you have to make your reads faster.”
In terms of praising his teammates, Joseph is glad he’s got Kawhi Leonard on his team. Joseph was the player who fed Leonard the game winning shot on Wednesday night. After the game, he said he knew Leonard would hit the shot, “I knew he was gonna do something great with it, that’s what great players do, they make shots.”
What the future holds for Joseph is still uncertain. The Spurs are about to brace themselves for a very grueling 66-game NBA season that could be an advantage for younger players like Joseph.
Veteran guard Parker has been playing basketball non-stop for almost an entire year. In the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s win, Parker already had his left knee wrapped in ice. With just T.J. Ford and Joseph as the only two backup point guards, the Spurs may have to keep Joseph around for the entire season if the coaching staff decides to rest Parker on certain occasions such as the back-to-back-to-back sets. With more rest throughout the season for Parker, Joseph could warrant more playing time.
For now Joseph can continue doing one thing, “I’m trying to get out there and play hard.”
Working hard is the right recipe for continued success.