A more analytics-friendly Cory Joseph equals a better bench for the Indiana Pacers

Subtle changes to Cory Joseph’s game have a big impact on how much the Indiana Pacers can expect from their backup point guard.

Cory Joseph‘s defense is why the Indiana Pacers signed him, it’s as simple as that. The career backup point guard can lock down opponents but his offense never was enough to make him a reliable ball handler and starter.

But now they get a little more out of him than what was expected from him a season ago.

With a reliable Darren Collison starting and a blossoming Aaron Holiday looking like the team’s point guard of the future, the Pacers only need so much out of CoJo. But some of the subtle changes to Joseph’s game this season play a role in the bench’s success as a whole and are part in an elevation of his own game.

Joseph hasn’t entirely reinvented himself as much as he’s simply rounded off a jagged edge here and there to smooth out his game and make himself even more reliable as the team’s backup point guard.

Thanks to the stable of point guard talent on the Pacers, he plays slightly fewer minutes than he did a year ago. But he squeezes more out of his time on the court now as well.

A more analytics-friendly Cory Joseph

His shot selection and subsequent results are one of the most notable changes for Joseph. For the first time in his career, nearly a third of his shots come from beyond the arc. And perhaps, more importantly, he now makes a 37.8 percent of his 3-pointers, another career high.

So where did those shots migrate from?

If you look at his shot charts from this and last season, you can see he doesn’t take those long-distance 2-pointers as often as he did a season ago. Joseph now steps in closer to the basket (a small jump in the 10-16 foot range, according to Basketball-Reference) or steps back to drop 3-pointers.

Joseph still takes floaters and mid-range shots go from time to time, but just by moving some of his attempts a few feet closer (to make them easier) or further (to make them worth more), he gets slightly more out of each shot.

When Joseph takes a jump shot, it is a 3-point attempt nearly 85 percent of the time, a major increase over the 71 percent of jumpers a season ago. That’s another way he is getting more out of a similar number of attempts.

So while Daryl Morey might want him to get to the rim more often than taking any mid-range shots, he still is getting into the restricted area more often than he did a season ago.

The shot selection is a big reason why his 54.2 true shooting percentage is his best in years. He may not get as many attempts at the rim as he once did, but now he makes more of them there to expand his range further than any other season in his career.

His raw stats are down just a hair, but by playing just a little smarter basketball, he makes a bigger impact on a per minute basis.

The entire Indiana Pacers team benefits

As mentioned above, a quick glance at the stats looks the same as a season ago if you forget that he plays slightly fewer minutes. He does all of this while posting the lowest usage rate of his career as well.

Another stat that starts to look similar is his drives per a game according to NBA.com. He actually drives to the basket a tiny bit more than a season ago, but what he does on them is what changed.

He doesn’t pull up early as often and now he passes the ball more than he did before. Perhaps then it is of little surprise that his assists are at a career-high 3.8 a game. Similar to what Bojan Bogdanovic did, Joseph isn’t as tightly guarded as he was in the past because defenders can’t hedge bets in the same way.

The career-high 3-point percentage makes them come out further, leaving more room for Joseph to drive and score himself, but also opens up passing angles. That shows in the fact he is on pace to get the most points to generate per an assist of his career.

Fewer minutes, more points for Joseph, and more points for his teammates.

The Pacers play their best basketball with him on the court

It doesn’t hurt that he often shares the court with Domantas Sabonis, but Joseph the Pacers outscore opponents by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. That’s the best number among rotational players.

His smarter offensive attack paired with his already stalwart defense creates problems for opponents that they hadn’t encountered with Joseph earlier in his career. Some of the headaches he caused opponents are only worse as now Joseph averages 1.3 steals a game, another career high.

Joseph may never be a full-time starter in the NBA, but through 27 games this season he exceeds expectations for ‘just’ being a backup point guard.