Returning for the Spurs this season will be arguably the best power forward to ever play the game. Coach Popovich will also have two likely future Hall of Famers in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. He has the luxury of Kawhi Leonard entering his third season, who is a man poised to put the team on his shoulders and establish himself as a legitimate star in the NBA.
So, who might emerge as the most important player on the Spurs roster this year?
Why, Cory Joseph, of course.
The story is well known among Spurs fans, but Joseph garnered attention and made national headlines during the playoffs because he asked Pop to send him back to the D-League during the winter. This turned out to be a brilliant move both for Joseph and the Spurs. Popovich works the D-League like a farmer with a rented mule. He gets the most out of every opportunity and as a result the Spurs are the best team in the league at player development. Cory Joseph is only the most recent example, and was called back to start at point in February when Tony Parker went down with an injury.
Ridiculed by some for entering the NBA Draft after a good, but not great, freshman campaign, Joseph was extremely fortunate to be drafted by the Spurs. Now it might be time for Joseph to cash in on that good fortune.
So far this summer, it looks like he is out to do just that.
Joseph helped Canada defeat Mexico on Thursday in the FIBA Americas Basketball Tournament 89-67, continuing his headline grabbing tournament run. He scored 17 points, with eight rebounds and six assists against Mexico and now Canada is guaranteed a spot in next summer's FIBA World Cup. The Toronto Sun is impressed.
That's largely been because of how good Pickering's Cory Joseph has been. While manning the point, Joseph has been treating opponents like his adversaries in the NBA Development League, where he was a standout months ago. He's been stuffing the stat sheet, racking up points and assists, even leading Canada in rebounding against Brazil. Joseph looks like a veteran on the court. Reaching the NBA Final and being developed by the league's best organization, San Antonio, has been huge for the former first-round pick. And he's playing like a star.
Joseph's performance should help Spurs fans see a silver lining around the ever present Game 6 cloud that's been hanging like a fog over our great city since early June.
So how does this translate into helping the Spurs make another run this year?
If Joseph can build on the valuable experience he gained during the course of the regular season last year in Austin and San Antonio, the minutes he got early in the 2013 playoffs, and then the confidence building performances he's turned in for Team Canada this summer, he could be the Spur that spells Parker and gets quality minutes.
We all know Tony Parker. You can't slow Tony Parker. We all wish Parker would rest but he's not going to. I can wish all day that my 3 year old son isn't going to climb up on the coffee table and do cannonballs (or as he calls them, cannon falls) into my crotch all night while I'm watching TV, but it's not going to happen. It's the same with Parker. Tony Parker has to move. If he's on the court he's moving. If he's not on the court he's moving. He invites his friends over to play soccer two days after Game 7. He plays basketball for any team that has "France" in its name any time of the year. He has a giant hamster wheel in his house that he jumps into and runs when practice is over. He uses his giant hamster wheel to generate electricity in the house. CPS is not happy with Tony Parker, but Tony Parker has to move.
Of course, Joseph will be battling for playing time with De Colo and Mills, but Joseph should prevail as the man that will help Pop help Parker rest. Last year Joseph averaged 13.9 minutes per game while Parker averaged just under 33. In the playoffs, Joseph's minutes were cut in half from the first round (14.3 MPG) to the Finals (7.2 MPG). On the flip side, Parker's minutes increased, peaking at almost 40 MPG in the Conference Finals.
Parker was obviously gassed in Game 6 and Game 7. Sure, he had a hamstring injury, but there was more to it than that. Tony had nothing left to give at the end of both games.
If Cory Joseph can step up and contribute valuable minutes (18-19 MPG) to relieve Parker in the regular season and even more in the playoffs the Spurs can position themselves for another magical run.
The Spurs have three of the best players to ever play the game suiting up every night, and a calm, young and rising star.
But the most important player on the Spurs roster this year might just be their back-up point guard.
Cory Joseph has had a great summer and he's in a great spot. The Spurs spotted something in Joseph early on and gave him an opportunity. Now it's time for him to cash in.