(“The Gallery” is an end-of-season series featuring one uniquely titled picture or video installation for every player that best summarizes or encapsulates that player’s season in a single snapshot. These aren’t highlights, they’re seminal moments expressed through the medium of art placards. Enjoy your tour!)
Guard, Age 27
It’s all in the Details
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
In this piece, fine art meets spot the difference. It’s all in the Details presents a grand view of Cory Joseph’s unheralded minutiae. An ATO designed to get Kyrie Irving a backcut, Jayson Tatum’s salesmanship is the key actor. With Boston’s sophomore pretending as though he is about to set a down screen, Irving uses that flash of misdirection to make a break for the rim, working his man’s ball denial to his advantage (see: George Hill).
Joseph was almost fooled by the exact same smoke-n-mirrors routine earlier in the season, except he snapped his head and extended his off arm as soon as he sensed that Irving was about to shift his weight in the opposite direction. That last-second reflex delayed the league’s leader in clutch-time field goals just long enough to prevent him from establishing the same seal as he did against Milwaukee, thereby affording Joseph an opportunity to rush the eventual blown layup.
And, here’s the thing: If not for that stop with less than 11 seconds to play, Victor Oladipo would’ve been pulling up for three with his team down four, instead of two.
Per usual, the pesky guard’s impact was substantial, even if also subtle.
Not to mention draining. On top of being available for all 82 games, Joseph’s 10 most frequent defensive assignments during the regular season included being tasked with cooling down combustible sharpshooters such as J.J. Redick (102 possessions), Terrence Ross (90), and Wayne Ellington (82), as well as the likes of Kyrie Irving (65), Trae Young (62), and Zach LaVine (61). He wasn’t likely to be caught taking possessions off, either. Of players averaging at least 25 minutes per game, Joseph’s average defensive speed was 4.18 miles per hour, fourth-highest in the league.
And yet, staying in constant motion at that end of the floor seemed to result in him paying a stiff price at the other. For a second-consecutive season, Joseph – or, at least his shot – wore down as the season progressed. After shooting 43 percent from three over his first 22 games, his conversion rate cratered to 27 percent over his remaining 60 games, including a 7-game stretch spanning from late-March into early-April where he failed to record a single make. And that’s just what he shot from outside the 3-point line. His overall field-goal percentage sank to the level of being too hard to watch post All-Star break, dipping below 35 percent.
Whether overextended or under-conditioned, there’s certainly evidence which suggests that the 27-year-old guard might struggle to bear an even larger burden as a full-time starter, and with Aaron Holiday expected to be a rotation player next season, returning as a reserve may not be a ready option unless the team is prepared to play the two point guard-sized guards together.
That said, if the business side fails to pan out, the absence of what Cory Joseph did in the details might suddenly appear as more than mere detail.