In the early goings of the basketball season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been continuously praised for their frequent and efficient use of the D-League. Despite already having a young and strong core, OKC still uses their minor league affiliate to keep tabs on additional pieces of the future.
That said, while the franchise receives a lot of credit for being both a current contender and potential future dynasty, one could still argue that a team like the San Antonio Spurs do not get the credit they deserve with regard to utilization of their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros.
This season, the team has already assigned the likes of Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard, and Nando De Colo. Last season, Joseph was joined by young gun and former Spur James Anderson. Gary Neal has also ventured to Austin for rehab purposes, and San Antonio furthermore only discovered the savvy skill set of Danny Green by watching him previously achieve success in the minors.
With a unique team makeup, though the Spurs are centered around veteran cornerstones Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, the fact is that the team's reserves are highlighted by some younger up and comers.
Aside from Parker, San Antonio doesn't quite have a pure floor general down the bench. The likes of Neal, Joseph, De Colo, and Patty Mills all possess tendencies similar to that of a combo guard.
With that in mind, Joseph has been shipped to Austin for the second straight season for what can be considered an extended stay. Surely, with the backup point guard position representing a void needing to be filled, the young guard's opportunity is a golden one. That coveted rotation spot could soon be his for the taking, but Joseph says he's using his time with the Toros to help propel himself to that very point.
Playing in the 2013 NBA D-League Showcase this week, Joseph told RidiculousUpside.com "the Spurs just want me to play a lot. They want me to be a leader and see if I can lead this team to some victories. That'll help me get better."
The guard went on to say that embracing his different respective roles with the Spurs and Toros is key. While in Austin, Joseph needs to continue learning how to take control of a game with ease and composure. Such an ability will undoubtedly allow him to swiftly return to San Antonio, only to provide his big league team with that necessary spark off the bench.
Despite having to go back and forth (Joseph has played in 11 NBADL contests this season), the second-year guard insisted he enjoys being able to play for the organization. The beautiful mix of smart veterans and promising young guns has given Joseph quite the advantage with regard to his individual development.
"For us younger guys, being able to learn from our experienced players is huge. We just like to soak it all in. To get better, it's important to take in all the different things our teammates, trainers, and coaching staff go on to tell us as we work out each and every day. As a young core, it's our job to help the "Big Three" win games," Joseph added.
As he looks to flourish into a player who can contribute into a nightly contribute, it's safe to say Joseph has had quite the unique start to his career. As San Antonio continues to use the D-League to their liking, they grant the guard with the chance to learn from all angles. If he's the type of player who learns from experience, he'll be able to receive that by hitting the hardwood in the D-League. That said, if Joseph instead needs a professor of sorts to point him in the right direction, he has the luxury of learning from three potential Hall of Famers while in town with the Spurs.
It may be discouraging for a young player to spend a prolonged period of time in the NBADL, but Joseph says he wouldn't have it any other way. He asserted, "You know what, the first time you get sent down, you can't help but be upset. You should be. But if the opportunity to play in the NBA simply isn't there, you just have to take advantage of time where it is available. It's important to come down here and play hard. That way, when that NBA opportunity comes around again, you'll be ready."
As fate would have it, Joseph is following his own advice quite well these days. In addition to averaging 19.2 points and 4.8 assists per contest in the minors, he led the Toros to a come from behind 96-78 victory over the Santa Cruz Warriors during day two of the Showcase. His vocal communication throughout certainly proved to be a key to achieving the win.