Seth Curry spent nearly his entire life in the shadow of his older brother and had to wait a long time for his breakthrough. But the youngest member of the NBA royals has developed into a nearly perfect role player – especially for his new team. Curry may not be the first name that stands out when looking at the Philadelphia 76ers roster, but the Sixers are anxiously awaiting his return from Covid-19. That’s because he is a major reason for the team’s early success this season. The shooting guard doesn’t rank in the top three among Philly’s best players. His career scoring average is 10.3 points, even though his current contribution is 17.0 points a game. And his usage rate has never been above 20 percent. Simply put, the youngest member of the NBA royal family is a role player – with some strengths and some glaring weaknesses. That is also the case in Philadelphia. Regardless, Curry has become indispensable in such a short time for the Sixers, who started the season with a 7-1 record. He is the interface that maintains a balance that would otherwise be missing for the team. Or as Jeffrey Lebowski would say: “He is the rug that really ties the room in Philadelphia together.”
Morey’s home work
All of the talk about the Sixers for years has been referring to the great potential – as well as the complex weaknesses – of the club’s two big stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The former is a huge ballhandler with weaknesses in the pick-and-roll because he doesn’t want to or cannot shoot; while the latter is the most dominant lowpost scorer in the league but needs to work too hard for his points because of the lack of space. The question if this combination can ever work together was posed in the off-season as Philly was looking for a new head coach and main decision-maker. The final answer cannot be determined yet, ultimately it has to be decided in the playoffs. The new personnel man Daryl Morey did his best to change the parameters of the discussion in the off-season and finally (!) brought in players who make life easier for Simmons and Embiid. One of the additions was Danny Green, a three-time NBA champion. But perhaps the most important addition from the Sixers standpoint was Curry, at least offensively. The logic behind the move was Philly looking for three-point shooters, and Curry and his 44.9 percent shooting from downtown is one of the best in that discipline that the league has ever seen. He has the shot and basketball IQ to develop a potential two-man game with Embiid and enough ballhandling and playmaking abilities to take away some of the burden from Simmons and even set him up. That was at least the idea when the Sixers brought in Curry from Dallas for Josh Richardson and a draft pick (Tyler Bey). While Richardson was considered the better and more complete player, the Sixers went for fit over talent in the move. And the results seem to have proven them correct.
Curry brings offense to life
In the first eight games of the season, the Sixers had an offensive rating of 118 in the minutes with Curry on the court. Without him, the rating dropped to 95.6. Of course, a lot of that had to do with him spending most of those minutes with the starting five, especially Embiid, with whom he was on the court nearly the entire time. That absurd discrepancy still has meaning though and doesn’t come from nowhere. Curry to a certain degree completes the entire Sixers offense. Curry is unbelievably smart in moving without the ball to the right place on the court while also intelligently using space created by superstars like Embiid. And Curry and the Cameroonian have really formed a good chemistry. Embiid is a central factor why the 30-year-old has put up a career-best average of 3.6 assists per game. Curry’s scoring has also been a major reason as he represents a serious threat from the outside. He has connected on an absurd 59.5 percent of his three-pointers (at the time of this writing) and he is not forcing the shots either, taking 5.1 three-pointers a game. If the defender tries to close out on him, Curry can dribble by him and hit the mid-range shot, drain the floater or efficiently go to the basket. So far this season Curry has been taking exactly the shots that the defense gives him, and he has been hitting almost everything – his True Shooting rating of 79.6 percent leads the league. Curry truly has been what the Dr. (pun intended) ordered. But it’s been a long time coming.
The forgotten royal
Considering his famous father Dell Curry and even more famous older brother Stephen Curry, Steh Curry seemed destined to at least become a productive NBA players. But the opposite has been the case. Seth Curry had to overcome a number of hurdles and more than once it looked like he would have to give up his dream of the NBA. It started in high school. Seth did put up dominant numbers at Charlotte Christian, but Steph had played there before him and he was starting to break out at college with Davidson. And Seth was regularly reminded of it with calls of “You’re not Steph-en”. The comparisons were everywhere. The Curry brothers look a little alike and have some similarities to their game. But in the end, they are completely different types of players. Steph is at another level with clearly the tools of a star – especially in terms of ballhandling and shooting. While both Curry brothers are great shooters, Steph has the clear advantage of having a much quicker release. Seth’s release is even somewhat slow, which would explain his low volume of shots despite high precision. Over his career, Seth takes 8.7 three-pointers per 100 possessions while Steph takes 11.8 attempts – and that with the younger brother really being an outside specialist. For comparison, Duncan Robinson, who can’t touch Seth in catch-and-shoot threes (46.7 percent to 69.0 percent), takes 13.3 threes per 100 possessions. His lack of volume shooting is a legitimate point of criticism that has followed Curry throughout his career. His rather slender build and lack of size are also issues which Seth shares with his two-time MVP winning brother. Seth also went through a series of injury problems early in his career.
A rocky path
For example during his senior year at Duke University, where Curry had to serve as a backup for years. Time had finally come for him to be the focus of the Blue Devils offense but a month before the season started, Seth suffered a stress fracture in his right leg that limited him the whole season and afterwards required surgery. Curry still was able to average 17.5 points a game but the operation scared away all 30 NBA teams from drafting him in 2013. Curry still considered himself an NBA player and started on a rocky path which turned into a true odyssey. In his first two years, he played for five different teams on 10-day and non-guaranteed contracts. The first attempt was with the Warriors almost in a PR gag with his brother though Seth was released before the start of the season. That was followed by stints in Memphis, Cleveland, Orlando and Phoenix. In between, Curry also set the D-League on fire, scoring 36 points in his debut and twice being named an All-Star in the developmental league. Though he was clearly too good for the D-League, Curry never got a good chance to shine in the NBA. It was mostly a no-win situation with him getting mainly playing time late in games. If he did well, it was just garbage time and if he failed to impress the team would say he couldn’t even get it done when it doesn’t matter. The summer of 2015 turned out to be the watershed moment for Curry. The then 24-year-old was ready to turn his back on the NBA dream and play in Europe. But he averaged 24.3 points for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Summer League and Sacramento ended up giving a chance – with a guaranteed NBA contract.
Detour to happiness
It was Curry’s big chance to go for it. While his brother was coming off his first MVP season and putting together an even better campaign, Seth was fighting for his niche. Kings coach George Karl early on only played him sporadically but the playing time increased and his 45 percent three-point shooting stood out. It was enough for Dallas in 2016 to give Seth a two-year contract – and that was a mini breakthrough. He averaged 12.8 points and shot well from long range again. Things finally seemed to be working out. And then the injury problems reared their ugly head again. Before the start of the 2017-18 season, it was announced that Curry would miss a good portion of time with a stress fracture in his left tibia. It ended up costing him the entire season – and that in a contract year. It could have been his ticket for a secured role and a future. Instead, now he had to fight for his spot. But it ended up being okay. Curry landed in Portland where he helped the Blazers to the Conference Finals, where he was swept by his brother and the Warriors – with their parents Dell and Sonya switching the jerseys of their sons. After that, Seth was rewarded with a long-term contract – once again with the Mavericks.
Worth the wait
Curry maintained his discipline and took another step forward in 2019-20. He hit 45.2 percent from long range to inch up his career percentage to 44.3 percent – good for second place among qualified players in NBA history. Curry waited a long time, had to take a lot of detours and experienced a number of setbacks, but the wait has paid off. And it has helped him turn into a player who knows his own strengths and weaknesses and can also read the game. Doc Rivers, Seth’s coach and father-in-law, knows from experience that Curry is not just about his shot. “When Luka Doncic did not have the ball, a lot went through Seth, especially in pick-and-rolls. Especially in the playoffs, we were just as worried about his drives as his shot. His drives killed us,” said Rivers, who tried to slow down Curry as the LA Clippers coach last season. It’s this combination that makes Curry so helpful for Philadelphia – because his strengths fit right in where the team has weaknesses. Curry will never be more than a role player and defensively he is someone who at least needs support if not should be hidden. But the Sixers don’t need more stars or defensive strengths – they are an unorthodox team. Maybe they are therefore the perfect home for an unorthodox player. As previously stated: Seth Curry just ties the room together.
by FIVE Magazine #176 – Seth Curry – Text: Ole Frerks