The San Antonio Spurs drafted Cory Joseph with the 29th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft -- maybe an hour removed, tops, from snagging Kawhi Leonard in a perverse deal that potentially benefited both teams involved.
Leonard opened his rookie season entrenched behind Richard Jefferson, but gradually emerged as the starting small forward. Leonard, a heady player, still subsisted on a healthy diet of backdoor cuts and put backs, but he developed a potent perimeter shot to supplement his athleticism.
Joseph, meanwhile, sat and wait. It's unfair to compare the two, especially since Joseph just appeared in one collegiate season. He's appeared in 40 games with the Austin Toros in two seasons, and he's benefited from an environment best suited for his untapped skills.
Via The Globe and Mail:
“This year has definitely been a roller coaster,” Joseph said. “It’s been fun. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people, learn a lot of things from different angles. I’ve been a sponge, soaking it all up. Just trying to improve my game.”
With Tony Parker soaking up the majority of minutes at point guard, acclimating to the NBA wasn't easy. It's already a rough preposition, but especially so if your role isn't finite. Joseph requested a "demotion" to the Austin Toros, the Spurs' D-League affiliate, and he returned to San Antonio with a heightened awareness after his brief stint. Joseph, in scant minutes, averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 assists in his final eight regular season games.
“I didn’t know it was going to get this much publicity, you know?” Joseph said. “Every reporter probably asked me that. Every single one asked me about the decision I made. At the time I didn’t know it would be this big.
“They watch, they want me to learn. It was an investment. I was just working. I was working and when I got my opportunity, whenever it was, that year, the next year, I’d be able to capitalize and feel like I was ready.”
Despite the strong finish to his sophomore season, Joseph knows there is plenty of room for improvement in his game and said he is honing in on his shooting and leadership skills this summer.
Joseph played in just 41 minutes during the NBA finals, though most of it occurred in low-leverage situations. His emotions, simply put, were all over the place.
“Playing on the biggest stage in basketball, in the world, nobody could ask for more,” Joseph said. “Obviously we were excited, happy, anxious, dialed in, focused, all of the emotions you could possibly think of, we were feeling. I mean, at the end, all of them. Mad, sad, all of it at once.”
Joseph, along with Cleveland Cavaliers Tristan Thompson and presumptive 2014 top pick Andrew Wiggins, will head an emerging Canadian program poised to contend in any international competition. Well, that's a first, isn't it?
“Kids realize they have different options now and they realize that it can actually happen,” Joseph said. “We’ve always had talented people, but I think Tristan (Thompson) and I being the first guys to get drafted in the first round together that opened some eyes.”