Seth Curry has big shoes to fill.
No, it’s not the Curry 3s that his two-time MVP (and the first-ever unanimous selection) older brother Stephen Curry wears.
It’s the bench-scoring shoes previously occupied by former Maverick Raymond Felton.
Although mostly delegated to a reserve role, Felton experienced a career revival last season in Dallas. He was tough, gritty and provided a sense of swagger not seen since Deshawn Stevenson and his Abraham Lincoln throat tattoo played a key role in the team’s championship season.
Felton was considered the ultimate professional and quickly became a fan favorite. He provided timely scoring and helped J.J. Barea facilitate the offense down the stretch when Deron Williams wasn’t healthy.
When Felton tested the free-agent market and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavs had a scoring void to fill on their bench.
Insert Seth Curry.
The Mavs’ viewed Curry not unlike Harrison Barnes: a young prospect who could expand his game if given the opportunity. Last season in Sacramento, Curry averaged around 15 minutes, seven points and 1.5 assists per contest, but his per-game stats were buoyed by his last 11 games in which he played nearly 30 minutes per game and scored 15 points per night. After a little more than a quarter of his first season in Dallas, Curry is averaging 10 points and nearly three assists while playing 27 minutes per game.
But while Curry may be filling the role left by Felton, their styles of play are starkly different.
A player’s shot selection is often one of the best illustrations of their style of play. Felton, by and large, would run through a brick wall to get to the basket and selectively shoot threes. For the entire 2015-16 season, 69 percent of his shots were two-point attempts and 31 percent of his shots were three-point attempts. Felton will come off this screen with the option to pull up at the top of the key. Instead he hesitates a little, puts his head down and scores on a good shot blocker in Clint Capela.
Curry, in comparison, plays from the outside in and with much more finesse. So far, 55 percent of Curry’s shots are from inside the arc and 45 percent are outside. Curry comes off a similar ball screen, quickly pulls up and drains the triple.
All this is not to say Felton can’t shoot threes and Curry can’t drive to the basket. It’s only to highlight the foundation of each player’s game.
Off the screen
Another example of these players’ differences is where on the floor they’re most effective. Looking at each players’ corner three point attempts is a subtle example of how they are useful in their team’s offense. For the entire year last season, Felton made six of his right-corner threes according to NBA.com. Comparatively, Curry has already made five of his 11 attempts. Curry is much more suited to play off the ball and open the floor up with his spacing and movement, whereas Felton was a better fit creating off the dribble even when he wasn’t the primary point guard on the floor.
This clip shows how Curry affects this team’s offense. He hands the ball off to Wesley Matthews and runs right off Barnes’ shoulder. Curry really sets up the whole play by nudging Lou Williams slightly and allowing Barnes to turn around and set a screen. The screen gives Curry enough space to set his feet and rise straight up into his shot.
Having a player who can space the floor and create his own shot without the ball is an invaluable skill, and one that the Mavs have sorely missed with Matthews struggling for the early part of his Mavs tenure.
Curry is not quite a true point guard, and he’s an undersized two guard at 6-foot-2. He needs to improve his playmaking ability when opponents run him off the three-point line. Here, Curry does a good job of gaining separation on his first step after a pump fake and finishing the play with a floater.
He will need to be able to see his teammate sliding up from the corner step up when good defensive teams step up and cut off his drive sooner.
It will be interesting to see how much run Rick Carlisle gives Curry now that the entire front court is healthy. Barea and Devin Harris excel in the pick and roll while Deron Williams is arguably the Mavs’ best all-around guard. If Curry can continue to knock down his corner threes at nearly 40 percent and provide timely scoring off the bench, he’ll carve out a nice role in this offense. Pure shooting is paramount in Carlisle’s offense, especially when Dirk and Barnes occupy much of the midrange.
Given Harris and Williams’ injury history, Curry could be thrust into a bigger role at any moment. Just like Felton could come off the bench and provide a scoring spark, Curry will need to do the same.
Once again the Mavs are gambling on tapping into a player’s potential, and Curry is stepping up when given the opportunity.