When is it the right time to become impatient?
During his rookie season, the most impatient of Spurs fans considered Cory Joseph to be a wasted pick. Cory was supposed to fall to the second round after a rather underwhelming one-and-done season with UT but the Spurs snagged him with the 29th pick, meaning his contract was guaranteed for at least two years. Joseph could never really find his footing and spent a lot of time in Austin with the Toros in his first year. First T.J. Ford and then Gary Neal served as the back ups to Tony Parker. I was OK with that. Joseph was just a 19-year old rookie.
The NBA's ridiculously lop-sided season
It's been an awfully lop-sided NBA season. Does that make it an awful season? Where does it stand historically, and how does it affect the Spurs' chances this year?
After spending the big majority of his sophomore season tearing up the D-League, Joseph finally got a chance when Parker when down with injury. Joseph's best attribute was his steadiness, as he very rarely turned the ball over. His pesky defense also contributed to him edging out Patty Mills and Nando De Colo for the back up point guard spot going into the playoffs. But Joseph seemed out of his depth in the post season and failed to make any sort of positive mark. It happens to young players all the time, so I was not that worried.
During the off-season, Joseph led a Canadian national team that was very close to snagging a spot in the upcoming World Championships. He finished fifth in the FIBA Americas tournament in scoring and second in assists per game. While I wasn't as gung-ho about what his FIBA performance meant for his NBA career, coming into the season it looked like Joseph was ready to become a contributor. Third-year players often start showing their true value, and the Spurs were in need of a back-up for Parker. It seemed like it was Joseph's spot to lose.
Almost 40 games into the season, Mills is entrenched in the back-up point guard role, and Joseph has only recently gotten minutes because Danny Green is injured. Now I'm worried about Joseph.
Is Joseph ready to contribute?
I understand Cory was never destined for stardom. Guys selected that low in the draft are lucky to stay in the league after their rookie season. And there was a reason he was considered a reach at the end of the first round: he was not an athletic freak and he was raw. He is still young, too. At only 22, Joseph could still mature into a solid rotation player. But that doesn't make his current play any less worrisome.
The Spurs are doing so well without him, now that Mills has stepped up, that Joseph escapes criticism. But it really doesn't look like he has made much progress since entering the league. Three years in, Joseph's biggest asset on both ends of the floor continues to be his aversion to mistakes. At this point, that's just not enough. Cory is stuck between being too good for the D-League but not good enough to contribute on an NBA team.
Joseph has not blossomed as a shooter, and he won't even take threes unless he absolutely has to. For his career, he averages under two three pointers per 36 minutes and despite choosing carefully when to pull the trigger, his percentage is not particularly impressive. If he was fantastic at getting to the rim, that lack of range would be excusable. But Joseph very often settles for mid-range jumpers instead of going all the way to the bucket. His lack of an explosive first-step and his less-than-impressive body control surely don't help matters.
So he is not a scoring PG. With Ginobili slowing down, another playmaker off of the bench was needed. Joseph can't fill that role either, as his career averages of under five assists per 36 minutes attest to. To make matters worse, Cory doesn't break down defenses with his speed and is only adequate on the pick-and-roll, so most of his assists come within the flow of the offense. He is not the type of guy you can give the ball to and watch him create off the bounce, which is why Parker and Ginobili are still so instrumental to the offensive success of every lineup.
Defensively, Joseph's reputation is way ahead of his impact. The Spurs have always done significantly better with him off the court, even when he was part of the starting lineup last season. Individual defensive stats are always tricky but Joseph has never been particularly good at anything MySynergySports tracks. You definitely see him hustle, even against bigger players when you watch him, but hustle doesn't always translate to a stop or even a contested shot. It's hard to be a difference maker from the PG spot on D, and Joseph isn't even above average.
Is it time to let Cory go?
So what exactly does Joseph do well enough to grant him a roster spot this year and next?
Why haven't the Spurs cut ties already like they have done with other late first-round picks that didn't pan out?
These are not rhetorical questions. I can't find anything in his past or present performances that can answer that. And his potential doesn't seem to be all that high, as he is just average both in terms of raw talent and athletic skills. Why exactly, did he get his option picked up?
In theory, the Spurs secured his services for cheap for next year, when he could become the team's back up if Patty Mills leaves in free agency. But can CoJo make that leap from fringe player to contributor? So far he hasn't been able to make that leap, despite seemingly being a very hard worker. His contract is far from crippling but it seems like an unnecessary waste of resources. With Danny Green injured, having a roster spot to bring in a D-League wing right now seems like a better option.
The Spurs are performing at such a high level that the fringes of the roster don't really matter. And again, Joseph's contract is minuscule and he is not completely useless. But with the Spurs usually being very quick to pull the plug on players that don't contribute right away, the fact that Joseph is still on the roster is curious. Hopefully, it's just a question of PATFO seeing something in him I don't. I would love to be proved wrong here. But there is a very real possibility that the Spurs, just like every team at some point, might have made a mistake and are succumbing to the sunk-cost fallacy.