Whether it’s measured by the eye test or advanced analytics, Cory Joseph’s defense has been pivotal to his teams’ success and among the most impactful the League has to offer.
Sliding his feet with ball-handlers, chasing opponents up and down the floor, and getting a hand in the face of shooters, the tough-nosed guard has disrupted his counterparts’ rhythm and forced off-balance jump shots, night after night.
His contributions won’t always be discernable in the box score or evident in highlight reels, but his knack for giving opposing backcourts fits with be an enormous boon to Sacramento’s 21st-ranked defense.
Among qualified guards, the Toronto native placed among the leaders in the majority of key categories last season, including Defensive Real Plus/Minus (1.53; fourth), per ESPN.com, as well as defensive win shares (2.9; tied-eighth) and defensive box plus-minus (1.4; tied-eighth), via basketball-reference.com. No rotation player at his position accumulated more defensive win shares per 48 minutes (0.231).
In pick-and-roll coverage, Joseph, aggressively fighting through screens and applying constant pressure, allowed only 0.70 points per possession – landing him in the 92nd percentile, according to Synergy Sports. He forced a turnover on one-fifth of the plays he defended, while conceding a basket roughly a third of the time.
In isolation, the Texas alum limited ball-handlers to 0.65 PPP (91st percentile); no matter if he faced smaller guards or taller wings, players converted a lowly 29 percent against him on 51 opportunities.
Overall, opponents shot 1.6 percent worse when blanketed by Joseph, per NBA.com; for comparison, players matched up against All-Defensive Team selections Jrue Holiday and Marcus Smart made 0.6 and 0.5 percent lower than their season averages, respectively. On threes, the ninth-year veteran finished with the same percentage-point differential (minus-2.7 percent) as new teammate De’Aaron Fox, ranking ahead of Patrick Beverley (minus-2.5) and Smart (minus-1.7).
Joseph’s 1.9-percent steal rate graded in the 87th percentile, while his quick instincts and timing also led to a stout block rate (0.6; 62nd), according to Cleaning the Glass. Despite his 6-foot-3 stature, he was one of the top defensive rebounders at his position, pulling down 11.4 percent of missed field goals (79th percentile) and 8.5 percent of clanged free throws (84th).
While Indiana boasted the League’s third-ranked defense, allowing 106.0 points per 100 possessions, that number rose to 107.5 whenever their reserve point guard wasn’t in the lineup, according to NBA.com. With Joseph on the court, the team’s defensive rating reached an elite-level 102.8 — a mark that would’ve led the League over a full season.
On the offensive end, No. 9 holds a modest 6.9-points-per-game average, but on a Kings team loaded with bucket-getters on both first and second units, he won’t be tasked with carrying much of the scoring load.
A pass-first floor general who rarely makes careless mistakes, his assist-to-turnover ratio (4.01) was the fifth best in the League (min. 50 games played) in 2018-19, and his assist-to-usage rate (1.30) put him in the 86th percentile. Joseph dished out a season-high 12 assists – without committing a single turnover – off the bench on Feb. 28, and came a rebound shy of notching his first triple-double – ending his night with 10 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds – on Feb. 9.
When he’s looked to score, Joseph has generated most of his points on floaters and runners in the lane, converting on 47 percent from short midrange (93rd percentile) and 60 percent at the rim (65th) in 2018-19. Over the first two months, he drilled 43.4 percent from behind the arc, but a late-year slump dropped his season-long percentage (32.2) more in line with his career rate (32.7).
Along with providing ball security, a high basketball IQ and lockdown defense, Joseph was a desired offseason commodity because of his postseason résumé, which includes a championship with the 2013-14 Spurs and 82 total appearances with three teams. Last season, he averaged 7.5 points on 50 percent shooting (4-of-9 from downtown) and played his customarily hounding defense (2.2 steal rate) in Indiana’s first-round series against Boston.
With a proven history of unselfish play and reliable two-way production, the 27-year-old will help stabilize Sacramento’s second unit, while his locker-room presence will do wonders for a largely inexperienced Kings team in pursuit of a Playoff berth.