The last time Cory Joseph stepped on the floor for the Texas Longhorns, in 2011, the freshman phenom found himself involved in a controversial call that ultimately ended the team's NCAA Tournament run at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats. Two years later, Joseph and the San Antonio Spurs enter Miami with a chance to knock off LeBron James and the Miami Heat. For Joseph, the two-year journey as a pro has offered the guard a lesson about the importance of patience.
Writer Elbert Hubbard once said, "How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved success." One can imagine a quote like that fitting on a wall within the Spurs' locker room. No organization in the NBA possesses a better system or unit of role players than the Spurs, and the team has extended that methodical approach by grooming Joseph, who wasn't quite ready for the big stage when he came to the NBA. Aside from the lack of polish on Joseph's game, the one-and-done guard faced the challenge of fighting for minutes with Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili standing in his way. Getting minutes against those two would serve as a formidable task for even the most seasoned veteran.
The Spurs realized Joseph's game needed some work and wasted no time sending him down I-35 to the NBA Development League, where Joseph found himself, at least in terms of location, in a familiar setting playing for the Austin Toros. Only five NBA teams own their own minor league franchise, an example of the Spurs' commitment to maximizing the development of their players from the top of the roster down. Rather than leave Joseph on the bench for his rookie and sophomore seasons, where his confidence could potentially wane, Joseph gained starter's minutes and watched his game blossom. Joseph also embraced the luxury of playing in a city familiar to him from his year with the Longhorns. In his two seasons with the Toros, Joseph averaged 17.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. Armed with more confidence and experience from a mix-and-match tenure with the Spurs (Joseph played in 28 games for the Spurs this season), the Spurs called Joseph up for the entirety of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, where he has played an important role as Parker's backup on way to the Spurs' fifth NBA Finals appearance.
Joseph's aggressive play and selfless attitude fits perfectly with the Spurs. While Joseph's numbers as a backup don't initially stand out on a stat sheet (Joseph averaged 4.5 points and 1.9 rebounds a game this season), a closer look at his numbers show marked improvement. The guard's field goal percentage rose from 40% to 46%, his three point percentage jumped from 25% to 28%, and his free throw percentage leaped from 76% to 85%. It's hard to imagine Joseph could improve his game that quickly if he waved a towel an entire season at the end of the Spurs' bench.
Next season, Joseph might find himself back in Austin, leading the Toros to a playoff run of their own. It's all part of the process, an idea that Joseph embraces more with each passing day. Not only will increased minutes with the Toros continue to mold Joseph into a more solid pro, it allows the former Findlay Prep star time to reflect on his budding role with the most consistent team in the NBA. And a few weeks from now, if the Spurs upset the reeling Heat, Joseph will find that his steady rise as a backup guard literally has a nice ring to it.