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Calling on Cory

Cory Joseph is not happy.

His team stinks, his coach hates him and he sucks at defense. That’s how it feels from the arm-chair warrior’s perspective. After watching his minutes plummet against the Magic and then wiped away entirely against the Nets it looked like the handsome Canuck was done skating by on his perceived toughness.

CoJo’s struggles were quietly swept under the rug with each passing game. A player brought in for his defensive tenacity and leadership was beginning to look lost on basic pick and rolls. He missed assignments, failed to stay in front of his defender and lacked any of the physical presence we were used to seeing just a season ago.

It wasn’t just eye test either. Joseph has just 0.7 win shares thanks to his defense so far this season and his defensive box plus/minus rating is at a lowly -1.1. His lack of production in an area he was brought in to specifically help improve forced coach Dwayne Casey’s hand.

Casey questioned his mental toughness and after Joseph said nothing was wrong the Raptors’ coach quickly backtracked:

“Never worried about Cory for one second,” Casey said. “A lot was made to do about nothing. He’s what we’re about, his hard play. (I) just wanted to give him some rest. I used the word ‘mental’ and I shouldn’t have used that — he just needed some rest like Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) and like (Patrick Patterson) is getting some rest. Guys go through that.

Guys certainly do go through that, but rarely as a back up point guard losing minutes specifically for not playing proper defense. Joseph doesn’t have the luxury of taking nights off on the defensive end of the floor. He has the style and swagger of a 7th year noon-ball university hero with a broken jump shot and unless he;s hustling to lock down his man it’s time to ride some pine.

His attempts at being more successful on the offensive end of the floor have actually led to a slight uptick in efficiency, but not production. He’s increased his scoring average of 8.5 from last season to…..8.6, and we wouldn’t expect that number to climb much higher.

The real Cory Joseph is adored by his coach for his toughness, lauded for his defense and is an integral part to a team stuck in a slump but still trying to do something special. That’s why he came out against the Clippers and bodied dudes. It’s why he finished with a +9 rating (his highest since January 17th at Brooklyn) and four rebounds (another high since the Nets).

He followed that up with a +1 rating against the Timberwolves and while Casey seemed confused with his rotations all game Joseph still carved out a much deserved 22 minutes of playing time. In an interview before  that loss to the Wolves Joseph spoke on how much the team needs to help each other, and the energy it takes to play great, not good defense:

“We still have to better of course, tonight’s a different day, different game, different team, we’re going to have to bring our A game against a young team that comes out and plays hard and we’re going to have to match that intensity or bring even more”

The Raptors couldn’t bring more, and watched the Wolves crawl back for a heartbreaking 112-109 win.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are excellent ball players, but their scoring prowess has allowed them both to earn free passes when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. If Joseph doesn’t know it yet, his impact is felt across the entire team the moment he locks down on D.

Here’s hoping Casey’s mandatory vacation for number 6 paid off.

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