Cory Joseph was traded to Detroit mid-season seemingly for his contract. The Pistons parted with the competent, effective, wholly unremarkable Delon Wright for Joseph, a second-round pick and swapping out Wright’s guaranteed salary for next season for the relatively partial guarantee of Joseph.
Grab an asset and create some financial flexibility when you waive Joseph, which the team would certainly do, the conventional wisdom said. Now, however, you wonder if a combination of Joseph’s play and Detroit’s financial situation and draft position makes that a much tougher decision this offseason.
I’ll admit that I personally find watching Joseph on the floor to be a tough ask. He plays with this out-of-control style, roiling up and down the court and it’s a wonder he doesn’t have 10 turnovers per game. The truth of the matter, however, is that while it looks out of control, it is actually a barley-in-control style, and Joseph makes it work for him.
I decided that it always looks like Joseph’s on the court, but the hardwood floor is like a waterbed. Only Cory has mastered how to navigate the ripples and waves. The numbers as a Piston are tough to argue with, after all.
Joseph had a career-high 58.8 true shooting percentage as a member of the Pistons, and the offense performed much better with him on the court. He has the honor(?) of being the only player on a 20-win team to finish the season with a positive net rating, with Detroit outscoring opponents by 0.5 points per 100 possessions in his 502 minutes.
That is because he hit career highs from the field, 3-point land, the charity stripe and created 1.2 steals per game to just 1.8 turnovers with his 5.5 assists. He also managed to shoot a mind-blowing 70.9% in the restricted area. That ranked fourth in the NBA among guards with at least 100 attempts in that zone.
To me, this is the quintessential Cory Joseph play. He looks like he might fall over, his handle is way too wide, but he knows enough to take exactly what the defense will give him, and he is talented enough to make a team pay for it.
A 500-minute sampling of good basketball is nice and all, but we have 8.5 seasons of Cory Joseph basketball, and we have a good sense of what he can bring to a basketball team. And it’s ... mostly OK?
He’s not an exceptional passer, he’s a poor defender and while he shot 36% from 3 in Detroit, he’s a career 33.3% 3-point shooter. He’s also a poor defender who plays even smaller than his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame would indicate. He’s a classic tweener guard, though he was mostly pressed into action as a point guard after arriving in Detroit.
He had a great offensive run in Detroit, but he gave most of it back on the other end. On a rebuilding team like the Pistons, that was fine. Detroit needed a guard who could reliably run the offense, take a little bit of pressure off of Jerami Grant, and serve as mentor to Killian Hayes and Saben Lee. But a poor defender with an iffy offensive track record might make sense for Detroit to run back.
Will He Stay or Will He Go?
This is where things get interesting for Joseph. He has a $12.6 million contract for next season, but just $2.4 million is guaranteed. One of the byproducts of Detroit being rewarded the No. 1 pick as opposed to something like the sixth overall pick is more than $3 million in guaranteed cash.
That means the Pistons won’t have a terrible amount of space whether they keep Joseph or let him walk. Another consideration with the team grabbing the first pick is likely using it on a lead ball handler like Cade Cunningham.
At worst, the Pistons would view him as a lead ball handler and they might even view him as a point guard. With incumbent point guard Killian Hayes set to return and get a bunch of minutes at both guard spots in a split with Cade, and the potential return of Saben Lee, is there a spot for Joseph to return?
That boils down to whether the Pistons think they need a vet behind those three young guards, whether they are comfortable paying a vet more than $12 million to play spot minutes and whether they would want said vet to, perhaps, have a more reliable 3-point shot considering shooting is a weakness of both Hayes and Lee at the moment.
If I had to guess right now, Joseph will not return to the Pistons. It’s possible Detroit could release him to sign a third point guard for closer to the minimum and use some extra cash on wing or big man depth, or they could make further moves with other vets on the roster to open up some more serious cap space. But Joseph seems like an odd man out in Detroit.