Largely possible because of the vaunted "Spurs System," Patty Mills blossomed into a key reserve during the 2013-14 season. He dropped weight, earned a backup role and helped lift the San Antonio Spurs to an NBA title.
But Mills had to overtake a fellow point guard for the increased responsibilities, and Cory Joseph was the casualty. Heading into the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, Mills was expected to command attention, potentially as a starter for a rebuilding franchise.
However, news broke about the 25-year-old requiring surgery to repair an injured shoulder that was plaguing him throughout the past campaign. Now, the disappointing circumstance gives Joseph another chance to shine for the reigning NBA champions.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported a seven-month recovery period, rapidly cooling the ever-growing buzz surrounding Mills. A few days later, Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News ended all speculation, informing the NBA nation that Mills and the Spurs agreed to a new three-year deal.
While Mills, unfortunately for the rising star, perhaps lost a few million dollars in the contract, Joseph gained a four-month window to prove he belongs.
Despite serving as the third-stringer last year, the University of Texas product appeared in 68 games and even started 19 in Tony Parker's absence. Unsurprisingly, his playing time dipped from 13.8 minutes to 5.1 per outing during the playoffs.
But that is the Spurs System. Mills occupied a similar role in 2012-13, notching 11.3 each night throughout the regular season and just 3.4 in the postseason.
The greatest asset both players bring is defensive energy, flying around the court, entering passing lanes and causing overall disruption to an opponent's offensive flow. Three years ago, Joseph told ESPN's Andrew McNeill, "My dad taught me since I was young, it's better locking a person up to zero points than you scoring 50 points."
Barring a completely unexpected acquisition for another point guard, Joseph will be playing alongside Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and a well-paid Boris Diaw in the team's heralded second unit. Last season, the four players registered a mere 30 minutes on the court at the same time, per the NBA.com statistical database.
Considering Joseph is a career 28.4 percent three-point shooter compared to Mills' 40.6, there is an undeniable drop-off from distance. With that being said, the aforementioned trio will be complemented by a different, yet still dangerous dimension with Joseph handling the ball.
The former NBA D-League All-Star is a better passer than Mills, so Ginobili, Belinelli and Diaw will still find many open three-pointers due to San Antonio-famous ball movement and Joseph's kick-out ability.
Mills is a pick-and-pop artist and easily attempts more long-distance shots, but Joseph provides an upgrade in the pick-and-roll since he is constantly looking to attack the basket.
While mopping up a Game 4 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, Joseph entered the lane and rose for a rare dunk—completely unfazed by shot-blocking machine Serge Ibaka, who stood in the way.
According to McNeill, it was only Joseph's second career NBA throwdown—not a bad posterization for No. 2.
In addition to the one-handed slam, Joseph converted challenging layups with some really incredible finishes this past postseason. The two points in garbage time hardly received any attention, but they—like the dunk—certainly did not go unnoticed.
"This may sound corny, but it was kind of inspirational," Matt Bonner said, per McNeill. "Just to see someone go at Ibaka and dunk it on him like that with the foul. He changed so many shots and blocked so many of our shots, to see someone go right at him like that was pretty incredible."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has adapted his schemes to match his team's collective strengths; he only needs to tweak it for Joseph.
|Mills and Joseph Per-36 Minutes in 2013-14|
San Antonio should not skip a beat because the efficiency of the backup point guards was so similar, both offensively and defensively.
After all, Pop captains a plug-and-play operation, inserting the next man up and getting results. Besides, the show must go on, and the franchise will undoubtedly survive an unfortunate injury to a significant piece.
This time, Cory Joseph has the opportunity to shine, and the Spurs System is the perfect place for a fourth-year pro to thrive.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from Basketball-Reference.
Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.