Buck Harvey: New call: Someone missed on Joseph

When last seen in public, Cory Joseph looked stunned.

Five seconds?

How was it possible?

That play, in effect, ended Texas’ season.

What comes next is another call, but this one will take years, not seconds.

Someone made a mistake with Joseph.

Joseph won Saturday, at least. He was introduced along with the Spurs’ other first-round draft pick, Kawhi Leonard, and Joseph came across as bright-eyed and professional.

Some of the Spurs’ brass kidded him about wearing a tie and shiny, black shoes to the press gathering. But it was sweet; this is what teenagers wear to their first job.

Joseph is just 19, as is Leonard, and that’s part of the inherent promise both have. That’s also the reason, however, the Spurs’ move last week so risky.

There’s no guarantee either will translate to the NBA game. So why replace George Hill, just entering his prime, with uncertainty?

Hill might not have a full set of point-guard skills, and he sagged against Memphis. But anyone who plays defense and is capable of 29 points in a playoff game will likely be even better in his fourth and fifth seasons.

Money is naturally part of the equation. When the Spurs found there was so much interest for Hill last week, they concluded his price will be high when he becomes a free agent in a year. He’s a nice player at $2 million a year, not so much at $7 million.

Almost everyone in the organization said they would have done this deal no matter the economics, but that’s what they have to say. This is their reality, and adapting to it is their only choice.

Maybe they brilliantly did last week, especially if one fix follows. From what the Spurs have seen already, Leonard’s shooting motion isn’t a tear-down. The Spurs see a workable starting point.

Joseph needs tweaking, but not much. The concern with him has been whether he has NBA quickness, and a spring workout in New Jersey seemed to calm most fears.

Until then, it was unclear why he had chosen to enter the draft. After all, T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson and D.J. Augustin didn’t leave Texas after one year. Why should someone who often looked like just another guy?

The UT coaches used to joke about how Joseph played hunched over. Did he really play 6-foot-3? More telling, he rarely seemed to create the way an NBA point-guard prospect should.

R.C. Buford joked Saturday that Joseph might keep his Austin apartment and commute. Maybe that’s not a bad idea — if the commute is a short one to the Toros’ gym.

But the Spurs tracked all of this, and they weren’t discouraged. Joseph plays defense. He shot over 40 percent from the college 3-point line. And he had Hill-like dunks.

As for his lack of zip: If Joseph gets an angle, said one Spurs scout, he has enough quickness and size that defenders can’t cut off his driving lane.

The Spurs say they were not alone in this analysis. While most mock drafts rated Joseph somewhere in the middle of the second round, the Spurs insist he was in play from No. 25 to No. 35.

The Spurs also point to what Joseph did in mid-December. Then, in Greensboro, N.C., against North Carolina, in just his 11th college game, Joseph had 21 points and no turnovers in 35 minutes.

Here is how he broke the tie with about three seconds left: He dribbled full-court to the foul line, where he pivoted and made the jumper.

So why didn’t Joseph show more of this over the next few months at Texas? If he becomes a serviceable backup to Tony Parker, Rick Barnes will hear the question.

Barnes will hear about this draft, too. Three of his players went in the first round, with two of them rising higher than anyone expected. Since 1999, eight college teams have had at least three players drafted in the first round, and every team but Texas made at least the Elite Eight.

Five made the national championship game. Three won it.

Coincidentally, a play involving Joseph is a primary reason Texas didn’t advance. On an inbounds play in the final seconds against Arizona, an official quick-counted the critical five-second violation.

“I watched (the replay) a few times,” Joseph said Saturday, “but you have to put it behind you.”

Now, an NBA career is in front, as is a judgment. Either the Spurs made a mistake drafting Joseph, or Barnes made one for not doing more with him.

Both can’t win this.


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