With Kawhi Leonard sent safely back to San Antonio in a bubble-wrapped care package after Tuesday's victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Cory Joseph is now in the driver's seat of the Spurs' summer ride. The second-year guard from the University of Texas took advantage of his opportunity without that ball-hogging Leonard (I kid, I kid) by scoring a personal Summer League high 22 points, as the Silver and Black nearly erased an 18-point second-half deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers last night. Clearly wins and losses aren't of the utmost importance out here in Vegas, but the chance to run the show is certainly a valuable opportunity for the 20-year old.
"He's a great individual, so you just want to see him keep improving and he's done that on both ends of the floor," Spurs Summer League coach Jacque Vaughn said. "We're trying to put him in different situations to see how he deals with it. It's all about learning experiences in game situations and what happens at the end of games, clock management."
"There's a lot going on, especially at the point guard position. So this is really good for him."
It's sometimes a difficult proposition to be asked to analyze a Summer League player in terms of development and how their play will translate to the NBA season, but there are tangible observations in different capacities that can be accurately applied. The basketball being played in Vegas right now isn't anywhere close to the highest level, but it's not like these are scrubs we're talking about. The vast majority of these athletes have played as professionals and offer a bigger challenge than even high-level college basketball does. It's a difficult comparison to make given all the time college teammates get to spend together, so many people may argue otherwise. But it's important to remember most of these guys were among the best players on their team while in school. Making it to this level is tough, and these guys are fighting to earn spots to further their careers. It gets competitive.
Vaughn said the improvement in Joseph is actually obvious, and that's important going forward. Pop saw enough of Leonard from the stands and decided it was Joseph's turn.
"I think you see development because you can't simulate these situations with a workout partner or playing at the playground," he said. "It's live action with the speed of NBA players, so your decision making is faster and you definitely can see development throughout the course of the week."
"(Leonard and Joseph) are definitely our priorities this summer," Vaughn continued. "Kawhi did a good job while he was here and Cory gets a chance to continue to do a good job, so we're looking forward to the games going forward."
But Vaughn thinks there was an ulterior motive Pop had to take Kawhi off his Summer League squad. Perhaps the young coach just had it too easy. And as for why Leonard was taken off the team? Well...
"I'm the head coach of Summer League. Someone else is the head coach of the Spurs," he laughed. "Maybe my head was getting too big after my 2-0 start."