Player: Cory Joseph
Relevant stats: Cory Joseph played in all 64 games this season and started 22. mostly while De’Aaron Fox was injured. He averaged 6.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 24.0 minutes per game. Joseph shot 35.1% on 3-pointers.
Contract status: Joseph is in year one of a 3-year, $37.2 million deal. He is due $12.6 million in 2020-21 and guaranteed $2.4 million in 2021-22.
Recap: The Kings have legitimate holes on their roster, but backup point guard is not one of them. The Sactown Royalty staff was firmly in favor of the Joseph signing during the offseason, giving the move an A- overall. The main reason for that is Joseph’s defense.
Per NBA.com, Joseph’s opponents shoot 1.3% worse when he is defending them. That is not quite as stout as the -1.6% differential he had last season, but Sacramento is a worse defensive unit than Indiana, so some slippage is to be expected. The Kings defense improved by 2.0 points per 100 possessions with Jospeh on the court, despite the fact that he shared the majority of his minutes with defensive sieve Buddy Hield.
Joseph is a stronger defender than you would expect for his size without sacrificing the quickness of a 6’3” guard, enabling him to cover bigger guards and even wings. He powers his way through screens, which is particularly useful against handoffs as Joseph spends a good deal of time covering sharpshooters. He does a good job of keeping his man in front of him while also closing out space to contest jumpers.
Sacramento simply wins the possession battle with Joseph on the floor because he forces turnovers and the team rebounds the ball better with him in the game. All of the four factors (eFG%, turnover rate, free throw rate, and offensive rebounding) are worse for opponents when Joseph plays.
One of Joseph’s finer defensive performances came against James Harden and the Houston Rockets. As Tim noted in his game recap, Joseph was in Harden’s air space the entire game, making him uncomfortable on his jumpers and forcing him to give the ball away. That type of defensive effort simply doesn’t exist elsewhere on the Kings roster.
Sacramento got everything it could have hoped for from Joseph on the defense, which leads us to the other side of the ball. To put it plainly, Joseph doesn’t have the scoring juice to be the lead guard for a productive offense, which is why he comes off the bench. That doesn’t mean he lacks value on offense — he just has to be deployed correctly.
Joseph is a ball mover, an important function, especially in a Luke Walton offense. Although Joseph doesn’t necessarily pass people open, the ball doesn’t stick, which keeps defenses honest and moving. His assist percentage (20.1%) is about average for a combo guard, but it’s massive compared to his overall usage rate (15.4%), essentially because Joseph never looks to score. That makes him an ideal offensive complement with Hield, who bless is heart, is an unrelenting gunner.
Joseph is a competent spot-up shooter, and he isn’t shy about taking open shots when they’re present. He shot 37.7% on catch-and-shoot threes this year, good enough to not compromise the spacing of the team’s offense. That makes him a serviceable spot starter, especially if he’s surrounded with enough play finishers. Sacramento has enough of those to make Joseph’s fit worthwhile.
The Kings were still 2.2 points per 100 possessions worse on offense with Joseph on the floor, enough to negate his defensive impact, but a backup point guard who can keep the game even is nothing to sneeze at.
Future with the Kings: Joseph is likely a little overpaid for his role in Sacramento. However, the Kings need his defense and some De’Aaron Fox injury insurance, which means he’ll likely stick around through the end of his contract.