In March of this year, Masai offered us a cryptic quote when asked about the lack of Canadian basketball talent on the Raptors' roster:
"There is no doubt in my mind and I know in my time, there will be a Canadian basketball player playing for Toronto Raptors, 100%" - Masai— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) March 10, 2015
Fast forward a few months later, and the Raptors now have two Canadians on the squad, and most would agree that they were reasonable additions who should be able to help the team to varying degrees. While Anthony Bennett will be a deep bench option in all likelihood, Cory Joseph is the first home-grown talent who will actually play big minutes for the Raptors. After signing him to a 4 year, $30 million contract and offloading Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams, the Raptors have made a big commitment to a guy with a so-so track record.
We've all heard the story by now -- Joseph was a top recruit in high school, who had middling success in his lone year at the University of Texas. After surprisingly entering the draft, the Spurs took him as a project at the bottom of the first round. In four years in San Antonio, with plenty of trips to the D-League, Joseph never truly fit in as a regular rotation player. However, when injuries pushed him into a more featured role, he more than held his own.
Over a stretch of games last year that he started in place of an injured Tony Parker, Joseph looked very good -- so much so that I started branding him as the #BestCanadianInTheNBA. In 14 games as a starter, he put up a more than decent stat-line of 13.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 60.5 TS%, 56 FG% in 35 minutes per game. Because he was more of a like-for-like replacement for Parker, it was harder for him to find minutes off the bench, as Patty Mills was a much better fit for what they needed from a reserve.
From Pounding the Rock's farewell article to Cory, I found this excerpt interesting:
No matter how much he improved though, there were others in his way. Gary Neal. Patty Mills. Nando De Colo. None of them were in Joseph's class as a defender, but Popovich favored them to Joseph next to Ginobili because they were less reluctant to spot up and shoot threes. Joseph worked better as an understudy to Tony Parker, playing with the talented starters and blending in when the wee Frenchman was injured.
Cory Joseph will have a unique opportunity to play in a more featured role than ever before in his career. The concerns are real - he can't shoot particularly well, he's never played big minutes before, and he isn't notably fast or quick. But he brings a different dimension to the current Raptors roster. Where Lou Williams was a gunner who played forgettable defence, Joseph is a tenacious defender, and more of a team-oriented player on offence. He's from our own backyard, and his emergence with the Raptors would poetically align with the rise of Canada Basketball. We're all rooting for him, he's one of us.