Player Review 2018: Cory Joseph
Years Pro: 6
Status: Has a player option on the final season of his contract.
Key Stats: Played in all 82 games, starting 17. Averaged 7.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while playing 26.9 minutes per game.
If nothing else, Cory Joseph's season will be remembered for the photograph.
Surely, you've seen it. It's the one from the game against Atlanta at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 23, the first game after the All-Star break. The one taken after he stole a pass near midcourt, converted a layup, was knocked to the floor, paused to lean against the padding on the goal support for a moment, and then was practically thrown into the air by a gang of exuberant teammates who rushed from the other end of the court and from the bench to help him up.
Taken by Jessica Hoffman, the photo captured a stunned Joseph at the peak of the lift and the Pacers at a peak moment of their team spirit. It ranks as one of the greatest photos ever taken during a Pacers game, up there with that of Reggie Miller rising for a 3-pointer at Madison Square Garden in 1998, with Knicks fans gasping in the background because they know what's coming.
The photograph captured not only the special camaraderie of the Pacers' season, but also Joseph's primary value to the team. It came after a hustle play that was typical of his contributions:
He was running the baseline right to left as Victor Oladipo fired a 3-pointer. It missed, and the Hawks rebounded, so Joseph began running back on defense. Having passed the 3-point line, he cut left across the court to pick off DeAndre' Bembry's lobbed pass toward a teammate near the scorer's table, took one dribble for the layup, and was knocked down by a frustrated Bembry.
Next thing he knew, an avalanche of teammates was sprinting toward him, threatening to smother him.
"When nobody ran me over and I got up, I was laughing because it was so hilarious," he said after the game.
Joseph was a constant for the Pacers, a dependable backup point guard - except for the 17 games he started in place of an injured Darren Collison - who didn't dazzle in any way other than effort. His greatest asset was on defense, and he often finished games in place of Collison for that reason. He was an average shooter, who hit 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line, percentages that dropped a bit from the previous season in Toronto, but his rebounds and steals were improved. He was a steady ballhandler, too, with a solid 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio - well below Collison's league-leading ratio but still solid for a backup point guard.
Joseph's playing time dropped by seven minutes per game in the playoffs, and his shooting percentages went down as well - just 36 percent from the field and 27 percent from the 3-point line - but his ballhandling and defense remained strong.
So did his intangibles.
Joseph was a member of San Antonio's championship team in 2014 and has started 86 games in his NBA career, yet remains the humble, blue-collar guy who asked to go down to the Development League while with the Spurs to work on his game. He seems to have no false pretenses about his skill set, and does the little things that can't find homes in box scores.
"He's not going to have stats that wow you," Thaddeus Young said during the season. "But you look at the stat line and see all the small things he's done in the course of the game and you say, 'OK, this guy made it happen for us.' And then you watch tape and see how he harasses guys on the ball; he just makes the pace pick up when he comes in.
"He just has a lot to his game."
Joseph also shows uncommon leadership for a backup, much of it below the radar.
"He talks more than what he gives off," Myles Turner said. "'Come on guys, it's time to go!' He's always up and at 'em. That's what you love about Cory."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich still loves him, although he hasn't coached him since 2015. Popovich was part of the brain trust that drafted Joseph with the 29th overall pick out of the University of Texas in 2011 and watched him grow throughout the first four seasons of his career with the Spurs.
"He's just a consummate professional who wanted to use every bit of his ability," Popovich said before his team's game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Oct. 31. "He's not the most talented player in the world, but nobody has a bigger heart.
"There were times he came to me and said, 'Pop, I need to go down to the D League. I'm sitting too much; I need to play.' I don't remember any other player asking me to send him down to the D League. He's just the hardest worker on the planet and has formed himself into a solid NBA player who has an impact on the game.
"He does that first of all with his defense and his heart. He has a great drive and he's improved his jump shot over time. He's carved out a great career for himself and I couldn't be prouder of him."
Nobody gets to have a picture-perfect NBA career. Joseph, though, has found a way to stay in the frame.