On the final day of the trade deadline, Troy Weaver sent combo guard Delon Wright to the Sacramento Kings for 10-year veteran Cory Joseph. At the time, it appeared the logic behind the move was to free cap space for the 2021 free agency period. However, in 19 games for the Detroit Pistons, Joseph posted career-high numbers across the board and provided the Pistons with savvy point guard play and much-needed leadership. Joseph’s late-season production earned him a new two-year $10.07 million contract, ensuring his services as a rotational guard in the team’s ‘restoration’ process (unless the upcoming trade deadline has anything to say about it).
In his brief stint with the team, Joseph’s stand-out play endeared him to Dwane Casey. Casey put the ball in Joseph’s hands, allowing the former Texas Longhorn to post a career-high usage rate of 22.4%. The investment in Joseph as a ball-handler left some fans frustrated, with many craving to see those possessions in the hands of rookie guards Killian Hayes and Saben Lee. However, in 26 minutes a night, Joseph put up 12/3/5, with shooting splits of 51/37/88, his play as a backup was simply too good to keep out of the rotation.
In addition to production, Joseph provided the team with valuable on-court leadership and the ability to organize an offense. Upon reviewing film from last season, there were various instances where Joseph would direct his teammates with simple reads, such as the one below:
In this instance, Joseph immediately recognises the mismatch Stewart has down on the block. Dillon Brooks also notices the mismatch and drifts toward Stewart to provide the double team. Joseph identifies Brooks’ movement and signals to Stewart he’s passing to Doumbouya, which forces Brooks to rotate back out to Jackson, allowing Doumbouya to throw a clean entry pass to Stewart, resulting in an easy two points.
It’s safe to assume that in the same situation, a less experienced guard would rush to exploit the mismatch, most likely ending the possession in a turnover. With the Pistons pair of rookie guards averaging a combined 7 turnovers per 36 mins (Hayes 4.5 & Lee 2.5), it is understandable that the coaching staff heavily leaned on Joseph’s IQ and experience.
Know Your Role
When assessing the Pistons’ options at the guard position, Joseph is the least intriguing option as it pertains to the future of the franchise. He doesn’t present the high-flying rim finishing of Lee or Hamidou Diallo, nor the shot creation of a Cade Cunningham or Frank Jackson. However, the consistency and reliability of Joseph’s game will land him rotational minutes.
Whilst Joseph’s minutes can be viewed as taking away opportunities from the young guys, his ability to organise the team will help take the load off the young Pistons he’s on the floor with. Hence, the two areas where Joseph can maximise his role with the team are in providing secondary ball-handling and as a mentor for the young Piston guards.
With Weaver electing to bring back the guard trio of Joseph, Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo while also acquiring Cade Cunningham in the draft to go with returning sophomore duo of Hayes and Lee, the Pistons have a clear lack of experience at the guard position.
Typically, young guards in the NBA struggle with consistency, and a lack of consistency can lead to a loss in confidence. Look no further than Hayes’ rookie season for evidence. That is why it’s important the Pistons young core has the support of the few elder statesmen on the roster. The Pistons will enter the upcoming season with the fifth-youngest roster in the league, and it’s clear Joseph has made it a priority to help ensure the young guys maintain confidence:
#Pistons Cory Joseph said he liked that Killian Hayes didn't pass up open shots, whether they went in or not.— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) October 12, 2021
In the first few months of the season, it’s a safe bet to assume that the former Texas product will be the first guard off the bench. Expect Joseph to primarily initiate the offense when on the court. Last season he showed an ability to create shots for himself and team members as a pick and roll ball handler:
Joseph is by no means an A-level athlete, however, he uses his 6-foot-3 frame and shifty dribble moves to put his defender in jail, enabling him to generate points at the cup. Whilst it’s not always pretty, Joseph was an extremely efficient rim finisher at the rim for the Pistons. Per Cleaning the Glass, Joseph converted on 70% of attempts within six feet of the basket, placing him in the 93rd percentile. In addition to the rim finishing, the former first-round pick was able to keep the defense honest by connecting on mid-range attempts at a decent rate of 44%.
In a vacuum, the idea of Joseph playing 20+ minutes a night can be seen as a roadblock to development. However, Coach Casey has shown a willingness to deploy two point-guard lineups, some of which have netted positive results. The two-point lineups featuring Joseph provide our young glut of guards the opportunity to run the offense, whilst also ensuring there aren’t thrown to the fire.
The veteran presence of Joseph will provide a young Pistons team with an element of consistency, a player the coaching staff can rely upon to orchestrate offense, making Joseph a valuable piece in the Pistons ‘restoration’ process.