Seth Curry falls into a long tradition of NBA players to catch on in the late stages of an NBA season, that playground of flier prospects and tantalizing mirages. The Kings' rotation had passed Curry by until he started a March game against the Suns on a lark. First he started alongside Rajon Rondo, spacing the floor from the weak side. Then he started alongside Darren Collison, curling into catch-and-shoot opportunities to score. Eventually he started with neither at all, assuming the point himself and diving headfirst into the pick-and-roll game.
It wasn't until March of what was technically his third NBA season that Curry found any kind of consistent opportunity. Minutes and shots had eluded him. Once given, Curry used that currency to pique the league's curiosity over the course of 11 games—in which he averaged 15.2 points, 3.8 assists, and 48.4% shooting from beyond the arc while swinging between both guard positions.
Just how much reality was contained in that small sample remains to be seen. Games against the Kings in April tend to carry a last-day-of-school vibe, complete with questionable behavior and convenient absences. Curry hasn't yet produced against standard NBA rigor. He did, however, showcase enough upward mobility to catch the Mavericks' interest in a two-year, $6 million contract.
"I think it's just a good opportunity to expand my game, show a little bit more than I did last year in Sacramento," Curry said.
What Curry has shown already is the baseline efficiency of a professional shooter. Of the 83 open three-pointers Curry took last season according to NBA.com, 40 (48.2%) ended up makes. Available metrics rated Curry as one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league last season in limited minutes—a rare, reliable outlet for the crowded Kings. That alone has value for Dallas, though the Mavericks are banking just the same on progression. It's helpful for any guard to make the most of his open perimeter looks. It's even more so when he can have a hand in creating them, as was the case in Curry's most impressive late-season flashes.
"For me, it's just finding ways to create shots," Curry said. "I feel like if I got a shot off, it has a good chance of going in. So it's finding ways of creating different shots. Being smart. I watch film a lot, and different tricks that I can do to get my shot off the ball and creating ways to get shots off of pick-and-rolls or one-on-one situations like that."
Curry noted that in his free–agent meeting with the Mavs, Rick Carlisle walked him through the kinds of shots he can expect as well as some of the new wrinkles being built into the offense—particular flare sets, varying angles on ball screens—that could work specifically to Curry's advantage. Signing with the team sent Curry down a Synergy rabbit hole, where he dialed up possession after possession of Maverick offense with an eye trained to the guard play. "I've always admired [Carlisle's] offensive system," Curry said.
Now he'll have an chance to be a part of it. Curry's exact role is mired in Dallas's glut of similarly sized guards: incumbent starters Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews, backups Devin Harris and J.J. Barea, and even the bigger Justin Anderson edging into spot minutes at shooting guard. What Curry offers is a different skill strain. There should be occasion to play in his shooting alone, provided he can defend well enough within a team context to stay on the floor. If nothing else, there's a significant enough injury history in Dallas's backcourt to suggest that Curry's opportunities will come in due time.
The context of those opportunities matters. Curry is still coming into his own as a playmaker and learning to read possessions as they develop at NBA speed. Every minute he logs with Dirk Nowitzki—relative to Harrison Barnes or Dwight Powell—eases the slope of the learning curve. Who Curry plays with may wind up as large a factor in his production as how much (or how regularly) he plays. Position within the rotation can make all the difference, particularly for a player still looking to establish his game after some initial success.
Dallas has a vested interest in positioning Curry to succeed but a history of reliance on veterans. Based on Curry's impressions of their pitch meeting, that could change; 'expansion' was the watchword of a team who sold a then-restricted free agent on the kind of role and personal development he couldn't find in Sacramento. After a push for the Kings to rescind their qualifying offer, Curry joined the Mavs for the space they would give his game to grow.
To prepare, Curry is working with Accelerate Basketball in Charlotte, balancing three-a-day workouts with yoga for strengthening and maintenance. Conditioning is a critical part of his off-season plan—key in making the jump to being an NBA regular. Skill work is layered on fundamental training which is layered on body work, building Curry's game in a way that is both practical and demanding.
Even if Curry winds up in the best shape of his life, most of his best possessions will be won on subtlety. Curry just doesn't have the speed or explosion to outclass NBA competition. Many of his defenders at the point will be quicker on their feet and most at the two will have the length to bother his shot. This makes precision all the more important and deception outright mandatory. Chris Paul and Seth's brother, Steph, are regular subjects in Curry's film study for their manipulations with the ball. Curry, though, also finds himself watching a lot of Blazers guard C.J. McCollum—a fellow tweener who broke out last season by constantly shifting gears and keeping the defense out of sorts.
"I like his game," Curry said. "I think we're similar in the way we play at our own methodical pace and create shots...It's something I've always done just because I'm not gonna be the most athletic guy on the court, but I think I'm good at changing pace. I've got a good first step and things of that nature. So it's just about using your body to make the defense play at your tempo and react to you."
McCollum is an ambitious and fascinating model for Curry. It's within Curry's reach to find some smaller measure of McCollum-ish success under one of the best offensive coaches in the league. Carlisle can be a bit strict with prospects, but the accuracy of Curry's jumper will allow him to attempt plays off the dribble even when filling a more passive role. A smart, unselfish system operated by veterans will find Curry in the corner and on the curl and at the top of the key. Soon we'll see where, exactly, those possessions take him.