Cory Joseph shows why first-round picks aren’t created equal

By Quixem Ramirez

Dec 28, 2011; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph (5) and Los Angeles Clippers guard Mo Williams (25) share a laugh during the second half at the AT

Given the relatively quick acclimation to the NBA level of DeJuan Blair and Kawhi Leonard, Spurs fans have been spoiled. Now we expect rapid ascension and that’s why the brief period of ineptitude from Tiago Splitter and James Anderson was so maddening. (Anderson never amounted to the player we thought he’d be however.) The least they could do was live up to their draft pick, right?

In reality, though, the inverse is generally true. Draft picks shouldn’t expected to succeed in the NBA much less immediately. The daunting preposition of facing bigger, stronger, faster athletes every day is enough to deter talented players from reaching their full potential. Regardless of the intellect of a respective front office, the probability of finding valuable players at the end of the first round is improbable. There will be failure. A lot of failure. Some success too but only with the benefit of hindsight will we realize the value of a pick. The key is to continue making sound decisions backed with data and intuition with the knowledge that, over time, probability will be in your favor.

The Spurs followed their brilliant trade for Leonard with a questionable selection of Cory Joseph. Joseph has some potential defensively and a decent offensive game. People immediately compared him to George Hill which really isn’t a viable comparison. Joseph was a reach at the No. 29 pick and only saw 29 games of action with the Spurs. Ideally that number would have been much less but because of the rash of injuries plaguing the team early in the year, Joseph was pressed into garbage duty.

Joseph excelled in Austin, averaging 13.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 92.3% shooting from the line. We can’t quantify the confidence he gleamed from the experience but it’s probably significant. Receiving minutes in a more favorable situation should do wonders for his progression. Sitting on the bench can only be beneficial for so long.

Coming into next season, Joseph could make a valuable impression on the team if he secures the backup point guard position. Or, just as likely, he could garner more playing time in Austin, learn the finer points of the game — not to mention he has an upward climb to fully understand the Spurs’ offensive playbook — and work to minimize his flaws that led many to believe he’d be second-round fodder. Obviously, the Spurs saw something in Joseph.

Math, and the rigors of the NBA, see something else. They see a flawed basketball player with a delicate development period before skill set becomes readily apparent and their place in the NBA finite.

Of the last eight players selected at No. 29, only Josh Howard and Toney Douglas have played significant minutes in the NBA. The rest, despite being viewed as a first-round pick, didn’t accomplish much. That’s the simple truth.

Not all draft picks are created equal. San Antonio hopes Cory Joseph will reverse that trend.