Preseason is usually an ordeal to get through for players of all stripes, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it's taken on a bit more importance for Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli. They're both going to be called on to fill big roles and heavy minutes, and are readying themselves by working on their respective weaknesses.
At least Joseph had the benefit of knowing all summer long that he was going to be in line for the extended playing time. Just after winning the championship, an MRI on Patty Mills' right shoulder showed a rotator cuff tear, necessitating surgery that is expected to keep the Australian gunner out until 2015. As the only other point guard expected to make the team aside from Tony Parker, Joseph knows the backup job is his to lose, at least for a couple of months, and has taken the coaches' instructions to work on his shot in the off-season, especially from three-point land, where he's struggled so far in his career.
"I've definitely been working on it, my confidence is through (the roof) on my three-point shot and whenever I'm open I'm just letting it fly without thinking," Joseph said. "I think in the past I over-thought it too much. Hopefully this season I can just not think as much and just let it fly."
Joseph also revealed that shooting coach Chip Engelland has been working with him on his form. The tweaks haven't been on the release or his footwork but rather an aspect most wouldn't consider. "A lot on my grip and catch," Joseph said. "(It's) how I catch the ball and what my grip is on the ball."
It remains to be seen how firm Joseph's grip on the backup job will be.
Belinelli, meanwhile, is in a slightly different spot. He likely had an idea that he needed to ramp up for some extra early playing time with Mills out and Manu Ginobili easing into things after a summer spent rehabbing a stress fracture in his left fibula, but the malady that's caught everyone by surprise is Kawhi Leonard's eye infection, one that's threatening to shelve him even into the regular season. Regardless, Belinelli spent his off-season getting trimmer and working on his defense.
The Italian said that he didn't receive any special instruction from coaches, but he's a veteran who's been around and he's smart enough to take the hint once he saw his playing time cut in the playoffs.
"I just (have to) make it a big part of my game," Belinelli explained. "That's the thing. On this team if you play defense, you play. And if you don't, you're not going to play very much. So I just try to do my best and help the team win as always."
Belinelli revealed that he played a lot of one-on-one in summer to help his defense along while also working on the usual drills like defensive slides.
"They're the worst," he chuckled, "but something you have to do."
If Belinelli needed any extra motivation to keep at it, he'll have a familiar voice chirping in his ear in his native Italian. Assistant coach Ettore Messina, was Belinelli's first coach as a teenage pro playing for Virtus Bologna.
"I remember when I was 15, 16, he put me on the floor when I was in Bologna and now we're almost in the same situation," Belinelli marveled. "Right now we're in the NBA and we've got the possibility to live this life together, me and Ettore and that's a really good thing."
Still no trace of Leonard at the facility during shootaround. Splitter wasn't on the floor either, but I saw him working in the weight room in the back.