Cory Joseph an 'aggressive' complement to Cade Cunningham in Pistons' starting backcourt

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Guard Cory Joseph is the most experienced Piston. He’s in the middle of his 11th season, and had 145 starts in 700 games entering Sunday night’s game with Cleveland.

Joseph was in the starting lineup against the Cavaliers, marking the fourth consecutive game he’s taken second-year point guard Killian Hayes’ place as the backcourt partner for Detroit rookie Cade Cunningham.

Cory Joseph has started four straight games for the Pistons, including Sunday night's game against Cleveland.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey, who had Joseph for two seasons as head coach of the Toronto Raptors, sees him as a better running mate for Cunningham at this point because he’s a steady hand.

“He’s more aggressive and I want him to be more aggressive,” Casey said of Joseph, who is averaging 8.4 points and 3.9 assists. “If Cade’s having a tough time or a tough way, ‘Go get the ball!’ Get the ball and be aggressive.

“And he’s got the green light to shoot the open three. I don’t know what he’s shooting, but it’s pretty daggone good.”

Joseph is shooting .453 on 3-pointers — easily the highest percentage on a team shooting a paltry .319.

Casey continued on Joseph’s job description: “And be a leader. … That type of leadership that you need, and he has it. He’s a coach’s son. He did it for us in Toronto and he has the license to do that, be that leader, here.”

With leading scorer and eight-year veteran Jerami Grant out since Dec. 10 due to thumb surgery and health protocols, Joseph has double the experience of the rest of Detroit’s starting lineup combined.

Joseph hit the floor running when the Pistons acquired him last March from the Sacramento Kings.

“He knows the system,” Casey said. “It’s the same plays we ran in Toronto. He knows what’s going on defensively, the terminology, the offensive terminology.

“He knows my quirky personality sometimes, and again he’s comfortable in his own skin right now. He probably is even more than what he was in Toronto because there’s a lot of pressure being a Canadian in Canada, and his family’s there. He needed 20-30 tickets every game.

“But the maturity level definitely is there.”

Joseph, a first-round pick by the San Antonio Spurs in 2011 after playing one season at the University of Texas, was on their NBA championship team in 2014 and has 82 games of playoff experience.

He’s averaged 7.1 points, three assists and 2.6 rebounds for his career. Career-highs are 9.3 points (Toronto, 2016-17), 3.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds (both of those with the 2018-19 Indiana Pacers).

Joseph scored his career high of 33 against Brooklyn in a game five years ago, and has scored 21 twice this season. However, stardom hasn’t come. Consistency has, though, and that’s what Casey is tapping into him for this season.

He’s started 21% of his career games, and never has topped 26 in a season. However, his start against Cleveland was his 12th this season, and he could register his most starts in one season if Casey continues teaming him with Cunningham.

Cunningham has scored a career-high 34, 18 and six points in the last three games they started together. Joseph has averaged 11.7 in those games.

Wakeup call for Pistons’ slow starts

Slow starts have plagued the Pistons, who are 6-8 when leading after the first quarter and 5-29 when they don’t.

Detroit trailed the Magic, 39-19, after the first quarter Friday night before losing, 119-103, in Orlando.

“We played pretty even the rest of the game once we woke up,” said Casey, “and decided the game started at 7 o’clock rather than 8 o’clock. Once we did that, I thought we did some good things. It was the start that shot our own selves in the foot. … I told them during a timeout: ‘I’m not going to beg you to wake up.’

“That would be the biggest adjustment tonight (against Cleveland) — getting off to a good start and setting the tone.”

Grant, Olynyk ‘hopefully’ back soon

Conditioning remains the top priority in returning Grant and backup center-forward Kelly Olynyk to playing time after their injuries and health protocol requirements.

“Hopefully, we get those guys back at some time next week,” Casey said. “Then it’s re-integrating them into what we’re doing and getting them into game shape. That’s going to be a crash course also.”

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.