ORLANDO, Fla. -- Celtics assistant coach Ty Lue noticed second-round draft pick Kris Joseph was a little tentative when he arrived for the team's pre-summer league camp, so Lue pulled him aside and offered the rookie some friendly advice.
"He was a little passive, he didn't want to step on any toes," Lue recalled. "I told him to just play the game. Be aggressive."
Translation: Second-round picks on nonguaranteed contracts need to kick in doors, not open them for everybody else.
Joseph is an intriguing player, a lanky, 6-foot-7 wing with the ability to play the 2 or 3. He led Syracuse in scoring his senior season (yes, even ahead of No. 4 overall pick Dion Waiters), but he's not a volume scorer and in a summer league where players fire away in hopes of getting noticed, he's somewhat content to pick his spots (even if that only fosters his unassertive reputation).
Yes, fair or not, his reputation is that of a passive player who has yet to have fully tapped into his physical tools. The Celtics are intent on getting the most out of him and believe he can be a role player if they can shape his game.
With that in mind, the focus for Joseph this summer has been on the defensive side. The Celtics believe that, by channeling his intensity, they can turn him into a solid reserve defender (and his scoring talents will take care of themselves).
More than anything, they're trying to shake the appearance that he's playing passive.
Asked earlier this week what Joseph needs to work on, Lue said: "Being aggressive all the time. Don't be passive; be aggressive. Play tough, play strong. Sometimes he's going after loose balls with one hand -- be aggressive. That's it; playing strong, playing physical."
Rarely do second-round picks need to be reminded to go full tilt at summer league. Most are playing for their NBA contracts and often sacrifice their basketball conscience in order to make an impression.
Joseph is taking a somewhat more restrained approach, letting his game speak for itself. Then again, he's always taken the path less traveled.
A native of hockey-crazed Quebec, Joseph grew up in a hoops-crazed family. Basketball bloodlines run deep, with his cousin, Cory Joseph, a first-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs last year and his older brother, Maurice, having played at both Michigan State and Vermont (he now serves as assistant director of basketball operations at George Washington University).
Go through the press clippings and you'll read plenty about Kris and Maurice cleaning out garbage cans and suspending them for a makeshift basketball court while the rest of the kids in their Montreal neighborhood were out skating on frozen ponds.
His love of the game brought him to Syracuse (after coming to America to prep for two seasons) and it's not hard to see why the well-spoken Joseph was named a captain of the Orange.
Now, as he prepares for the next chapter in his basketball career, Joseph knows it's the little things that could ensure him an NBA job next season.
"What [Celtics management wants] to see is just me making multiple-effort plays on the defensive end," Joseph said. "Just trying to play D on the help side, then close back out to my man to contest the shot -- things of that nature. That's what I've been trying to work on -- crashing the offensive glass, getting to the boards, things like that."
Joseph had a knack for filling up a stat line, highlighted in Thursday's loss to the Detroit Pistons, where he might have been Boston's best player on the floor. Yes, he missed 10 shots and the team-worst minus-17 in plus/minus suggests a rough afternoon, but Joseph was anything but passive, attacking the basket at both ends of the floor (reflected in four offensive rebounds and 11 overall). He put up a team-high 16 shots and even though only six fell, you like how smooth his offensive game often looks.
Both Joseph and Lue believe he's got the tools to play either the 2 or the 3 at the next level. He looks particularly smooth coming off pin-downs and, with more consistency in his jumper, could carve out a role as a depth 2. His size and wingspan might allow him to be a competitive defender at the 3, and being able to defend both positions -- like, say, a Mickael Pietrus -- might open some doors for him (though he's got a long way to go to be that sort of defender).
Joseph is immersing himself in the opportunity. He spent a week in Boston after signing his rookie deal (two years, unguaranteed, at the minimum) with the team soon after the draft, but joked that he barely left the team's practice facility in Waltham.
In fact, his only real field trip was to the Burlington Mall to check out the Cheesecake Factory (a favorite stop for Boston players who end up living in that region). A trip to Allston for rookie introductions was about as close as he came to the city.
If he continues to play like he has in recent days, it's likely that Joseph will get plenty of opportunities to explore Boston. The Celtics haven't exactly oozed serviceable depth (and athleticism) at the swingman spot in recent seasons and Joseph does that.
He's admittedly excited about learning under Paul Pierce (even if team owner Wyc Grousbeck warned him at rookie introductions that Pierce will try to eat him alive). The unassertive reputation suggests that Joseph would be fine to endure that sort of punishment. Truth be told, he's ready to fight back.
Yes, he's trying to prove he's anything but passive.