The NBA will begin in t-minus three weeks (!!!), so we'll indulge you with a comprehensive list, ranking the San Antonio Spurs roster from 14-1. Each day we will reveal a new player and that's when we ask you, the dear reader, to chime in. Connect with #SpursRank on Facebook or Twitter or dabble in the comment section below, and prepare to defend your argument. I may or may not attack you verbally. No promises. And without further ado …
The very nature of ranking professional basketball players isn't easy — there are multitude of subjective and objective measures to consider, and pinpointing "value" is very difficult in a vacuum. Basketball isn't a vacuum, though. It's a dynamic sport, one where several independent factors influence a given basketball game, a half, a possession. And those factors ebb and flow.
The point of that preface? I'm just defending myself here, just in case I'm wrong: I'm putting San Antonio Spurs' Cory Joseph behind Patty Mills in these rankings. The two both happen to play the same position, are generally asked to fulfill the same duties, so comparing the two was a tad easier than trying to ascertain the difference between two players with entirely different roles.
I love CoJo. He's an adept defender, dramatically better than Mills and Gary Neal (remember him?). He's a competent shot creator — sometimes. He is the ideal backup point guard in a Gregg Popovich offense, because he doesn't hijack the offense and he can defend any backup point guard, and some starting-level point guards, in a pinch. He's a valuable commodity.
He's just really, really young.
Joseph has played in 57 NBA games in two seasons, amounting to 654 regular season minutes. Mills beat that total, by two whole minutes, last year alone. That's one reason.
Two: Mills is a more reliable offensive weapon, which just about outweighs the advantages Joseph provides on defense. (The caveat, of course, is that Joseph has room to develop offensively. He's barely 22, and decimated summer league competition for the second consecutive season.)
Mills finished with the fourth-highest points per possession figure on the team according to NBA wowy, behind Matt Bonner, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Mills' usage rate, 20.2 percent according to Basketball Reference, was also quite high, and he was still efficient with the ball in his hands. He converted on 45 percent of his shots from 15-24 feet, an area on the floor that is normally the least efficient spot on the floor. All of these numbers indicate that Mills, in a shot creating intensive role, was an asset. Popovich could insert Mills for short periods of time without significantly hurting the team's offensive bottom line. In fact, San Antonio scored 1.1 points per 100 possessions more with Mills on the floor.
The Spurs' offense mustered up 5.3 points per 100 possessions less with Joseph on the court. Now, these figures aren't perfect. Joseph, again, played very few minutes of NBA basketball and it's tempting to draw too much from these numbers. He also played alongside lower level replacement players in low-leverage minutes, the vast majority of his minutes. These numbers would improve, presumably, if Popovich heaped a larger role on his shoulders this season.
The disparity between the two — 6.4 points per 100 possessions — is pretty significant, though. Mills, even with the ball in his hands, didn't hoist nearly as many mid range shots as Joseph did (percentage wise). Nine percent of his shots last season were from 10-15 feet, a respectable figure, but still quite a few ticks higher than Mills' percentage (4.8 percent). CoJo isn't blessed with ethereal athleticism, but turning some mid-range looks into more potent shots closer to the basket will be an interesting development to keep tabs on this season. He has the ability. He just needs to complement his ability with a nuanced approach to the game, and that normally accrues through on-court playing time.
I could be very wrong in a few months, when I revise these rankings prior to the All-Star break. For the time being, Mills has the edge. Joseph, meanwhile, isn't too far behind.
So what do you think, Spurs fans? Where would you rank Cory Joseph?