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Player Review: Cory Joseph catalyzed chain reactions on defense

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On the under-the-radar value of Indiana’s backup guard quietly serving as the step which triggers the next.

Original Photo Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Consider the mechanical workings of a Rube Goldberg contraption, a complex chain reaction made up of a series of simple machines. Each part, though small and uncomplicated, is required to complete the desired consequence. Yet, while observing these sorts of elaborate domino effects, it can become easy to get lost in the process and remember only that which happened just prior to the final result.

“If you watch what he does to help you win games — dive on loose balls and tap balls away from the opponent and getting (into) guys defensively, it’s hard to quantify his value,” Kevin Pritchard said of Cory Joseph’s tenacity at his team’s end-of-season press conference.

“But we know what it is.”

Much like one of the internal corkscrews, inclines, or pulleys in a convoluted apparatus, the scrappy guard’s peskiness at the point of attack provided an integral step within his team’s ability to defend on a string and end possessions.

How did Cory Joseph impress

Beyond stripping the ball from Kyle Anderson on a key late-game possession in San Antonio or holding his spot and forcing a tough shot when switched onto Harrison Barnes in Dallas, the 26-year-old backup guard’s knack for applying pressure and negating screens routinely served as the catalyst for point-saving plays as well as forced offensive resets.

For example, Thaddeus Young’s quick hands are credited for cutting this possession short of a shot attempt in Boston, but the reason he was in position to poke the ball free from Kyrie Irving was because Cory Joseph put his back to the screener and guided the crafty ball-handler into a trap by coaxing him away from Greg Monroe’s pick.

In addition to being capable of denying middle, Joseph’s aptitude for tracking ball-handlers over screens minimized — or, sometimes, even neutralized — the duration by which his teammates got stuck defending in 2-on-1 situations.

Here, because the airspace vacuum got his leg in front of Eric Bledsoe and escorted him inside the three-point line, Thad only had to worry about continuing to put the clamps on Giannis Antetotkounmpo.

With Young blanketing the passing lane to the lanky stat-sheet stuffer, Bledsoe was forced to throw the ball back to Jabari Parker at the top of the key to avoid committing a turnover after having already left his feet.

This sort of doggedness not only was an asset against the opposing team’s top guard threat but it also allowed Victor Oladipo to roam or conserve energy.

Case in point, when Indiana’s first-time All-Star scored 33 points against the Wizards, with the majority of his points coming from buckets he scored in the open floor or at the free throw line, the plurality of his defensive possessions were logged against Tomas Satoransky so he could make his presence felt in the gaps.

Meanwhile, Bradley Beal only produced 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting when Joseph was harassing him, and he missed his final five shots.

All of which is to say that he consistently made the process of getting stops easier, even when he wasn’t the stopper.

On the season, the Pacers held opponents to 10.8 points per 100 possessions fewer when Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young were on the floor with Joseph as opposed to Darren Collison.

How did Cory Joseph disappoint?

After shooting 41 percent from three over his first 37 games, he only converted 31 percent during his remaining 45 games.

So, while he perhaps could have spared Oladipo from losing track of Kyle Korver against the Cavaliers in the postseason, he wasn’t exactly well-suited to provide relief as a stop-release when Indiana’s scoring engine got bogged down by hard doubles — as was evidenced by him going 3-of-12 on open shots for the series.

Off the bench, however, he and Lance Stephenson posted the worst cumulative plus-minus (minus-112) of any two-man combination on the team this season among those with at least 800 minutes played, and the only lineups which included both players and outscored opponents per 100 possessions were those involving either Oladipo or Collison as a tertiary playmaker.

What’s next for Cory Joseph?

Having already decided to forego testing the financially crunched free agent market this summer to finish the final season of his four-year, $30 million contract with the Pacers, Nate McMillan may need to reconsider how he shuffles the guard rotation — especially if Indiana’s brass exercises Lance’s $4.3 million team option.

Joseph provides utility serving as the step which triggers the next on defense, but the overall functionality of the team contraption is dependent upon the way in which the simple machines are sequenced and work together.

More Player Reviews:

Joe Young had his moments

Lance Stephenson was an experience

T.J. Leaf’s offense was ahead of his defense

Darren Collison’s efficiency wasn’t profligate

Thaddeus Young filled the gaps

Glenn Robinson III is still in search of his steady chance

Al Jefferson answered the bell with intangibles

Domantas Sabonis connected the dots