About a year ago, on March 27 to be exact, Seth Curry had just helped the Kings beat the Mavericks, and as he was in the middle of an interview on the court, DeMarcus Cousins surprised him from behind with a major confidence boost.
“Hey, you’re going to be in this league a long time, boy! Remember that! A looong time!” he hollered at Curry, smiling, on live television before running off.
Fast forward a year later. Now with the Mavericks, after signing a two-year contract last summer, Curry has been the team’s biggest surprising spark while they’re in the midst of an historic turnaround. After opening up the season 3-14—the third-worst start in franchise history—Dallas has gone 17-10 (entering Monday) since Curry became a starting guard on Jan. 12, and they’re remarkably closing in on a playoff spot.
Curry’s new role with the Mavericks came after former teammate Andrew Bogut suffered a right hamstring strain on Jan. 9. Head coach Rick Carlisle wanted to pick up the pace a bit with a two point-guard lineup, and the 6’2″ Curry took full advantage with his improved pick-and-roll offense and off-the-dribble shooting. He’s one of the most accurate pull-up shooters in the league from two- and three-point range, hovering around 45 percent (NBA.com/Stats).
Since December, he’s improved his scoring every month, and during the team’s recent 27-game stretch, he’s averaging 16.4 points while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 47.2 percent from downtown. On the season, the 26-year-old’s three-point percentage (.434; fifth-best in the league) is actually better than that of his older brother of two years, Stephen (.393), the reigning two-time MVP and arguably the greatest shooter ever.
“Every time I step out there, I feel like I’m getting better, getting more comfortable, finding ways I can get my shot off and score,” Curry told the NBPA. “And coaches have really been helping push me to do different things on the court—not just being a scorer, but being a playmaker for other people. So I’m just having a lot of fun right now.”
“He’s shown the full package,” Stephen, an NBPA Vice President, said. “He’s had an interesting journey from Duke, with the injury [surgery on his right shin in 2013], missing out on the draft, and then going to the D-League and establishing himself in the league. I’m pretty sure not a lot of people knew all the skill set he had to offer—playmaking ability, ball-handling, finishing in the lane and not just shooting threes, all different shot selections against guys. So he’s putting it all on display right now. It’s just pretty fun to watch.”
Through the showcase of his expanded point-guard skills, after three straight summers of unique ball-handling progression, Curry is creating a name for himself—and it extends to his emerging brand, basketball camps and community work. He also has a niche in the popular Curry household as an outdoorsman and uncle.
Spicing Things Up
Curry’s freshman year teammate at Liberty University, Johnny Stephene, remembers how small he looked the first time they met and having doubts about his talent level. But that changed very quickly.
“The first day of open gym when I saw him play, I said, ‘I knew that Seth would be an NBA player,'” said Stephene, who trains Curry full-time in the summer. “Even though he was a really skinny kid, he would make every single thing he put in the air. When we played against teams like Clemson and Virginia, he was dropping [24 and 26 points, respectively] against these guys as a freshman.”
Curry went on to star at Duke, after transferring for his sophomore year, and his biggest strength continued to be his shooting. But because he was 6’2″ and would need to play some point guard in the NBA, he needed to develop his ball-handling and playmaking abilities.
“I really focused on being able to play the point guard and make plays, all the pick and-rolls, because that’s what you have to do in the NBA,” Curry said.
Since the summer of 2014, Curry and Stephene, who’s become a sought-after ball-handling coach for NBA players with his company Handlelife, have been on a three-stage program. The first summer centered on stationary and fundamental ball-handling, “focused on getting his handle tight,” Stephene said; 2015 was on challenging combo dribbles, “getting his shot off with his handles”; and last summer was bringing all of those new moves into isolation and pick-and-roll situations, “being more of a playmaker.”
What stood out about last summer was how Stephene orchestrated the workouts. After he started driving at 6 a.m. five days a week to make the one-hour commute from his residence in Studio City, Calif., to Ventura College—committing to Curry’s dedication—they hit the court for early-morning sessions with four to five others present.
They were Stephene’s college or professional-playing friends, and they served as defenders against Curry, blitzing him and chasing him around screens. The purpose was to simulate game situations, “challenging him and putting him in an extremely hard environment,” said Stephene, who studied Curry’s game film and reviewed it with his student.
“That was huge for me, especially to see bigger guys,” Curry said. “He would bring bigger, stronger defenders, more athletic guys who would come in with pads and try to beat me up while I’m dribbling the ball. I’m not the biggest, most physical guy in the NBA, so I’ve got to get used to taking contact. And he makes it a lot harder than it would be in games, so when I get out there on the court it feels easy and natural.”
Stephene said Curry’s top combo through the years has been a “push crossover hesitation into the long step blow by.” Now, he’s displaying the full repertoire, being more effective with extra dribbling than he’s been in the past. Some of his other go-to moves include a crossover into a jump step-back shot; stop-on-the-dime, behind-the-back drive to the basket; and penetration with one hand where he picks the ball up quickly with only the same hand, and finishes high in the paint.
“He always had a craftiness since his freshman year,” Stephene said. “He was really good at one, two dribbles and getting into a shot. We focused on having more control of the ball, where you can make quick decisions and you don’t have to give the ball up so quick. The difference with Seth this year is that he’s doing a lot of off the dribble—off-the-dribble pullup threes, off-the-dribble floaters, more craftiness.”
Finishing last season with the Kings, Curry started to cook, averaging 15.2 points in nine of 11 starts. And former head coach George Karl called him the best on-ball defender on the team. In fact, his 1.2 steals per game this season is tied for sixth in the league among players averaging 30 or fewer minutes per game (NBA.com/Stats).
Not only is Curry excelling on defense, but also within Dallas’ organized offense.
“He’s in a great system and has great coaching,” a veteran NBA scout said. “There’s plain structure, accountability and direction. On the court, there’s not a lot of freelancing and there are real plays—ball and player movement. Players’ skills are being utilized.”
And with Curry proving that he’s more than just a spot-up shooter, he’s gained the special trust of Carlisle, who’s been known for years to prioritize older players in his rotation.
“The things that have impressed me have been his basketball IQ, his work ethic and his poise,” the scout said. “He understands the game and makes great decisions. He’s like a silent assassin. He goes about his job without a lot of fanfare and hoopla. You never know what he’s thinking, but rest assured when the big lights come on, he’s ready to play. He really has game.”
With the offseason training getting him to “think out of the box dribble-wise,” Curry said, that’s added another layer of confidence, where he’s no longer hesitating in games. This summer, the emphasis will be expanding his range off the dribble out to 28 feet, and finishing with contact at the rim and in the midrange.
“He’s about to blow up and take off from here. He will be one of the top point guards,” said Stephene, who also works with NBPA President Chris Paul, Avery Bradley, DeMar DeRozan, Wesley Matthews and Victor Oladipo. “He doesn’t resemble anybody. He’s creating his own identity.”
With new success on his side, Curry is also thinking bigger about his business endeavors. Working with his agency, Octagon, he recently debuted the design of his longtime nickname from college—”S Dot”—which is now his Twitter profile pic. The social media account is also where he’s hearing from fans asking about the possibility of his own player edition sneaker.
“I’m trying to get it ASAP,” said Curry, who’s endorsed by Under Armour. “I’ve got to get my own PEs soon.”
Curry also has a partnership with JBL, which enables him to get new headphone products four times per year for his Mavericks teammates and the staff. “It’s cool,” he said. “It’s to build team camaraderie.”
In addition, he’s game-planning for this summer, when he’ll not only host his second annual basketball camp at Ventura College, where Stephene was the lead instructor. He’ll also take over the Charlotte camp that his father, Dell, started when he played in the NBA.
“I went to a lot of camps growing up, so when I got to this point in my career I always wanted to have my own,” Curry said. “I wanted to inspire the kids who maybe look up to me and want to be NBA players. It’s one of the best weeks of my summer.”
A big example he sets for the kids is how he was able to stay strong through a few years of struggles. “You have to have a certain toughness to make it in the league undrafted,” he said. “A lot of guys who went undrafted kind of get down.”
“The one thing I know about Seth is he’s always confident in his ability,” Stephen said. “He’s always had like a him-against-the-world mentality, which has been real helpful for him to withstand the different stops he’s had along the way. And he plays right into the resiliency he needed to stick with it. Eventually when he got a shot, he was ready. It’s a lot of in the shadows of my dad’s career, and that makes it even much more amazing.”
Charity-wise, Curry has teamed up with one of his best friends, Chris Strachan, who runs a non-profit called Kick’n It. The organization donates shoes to the Congo, where soil contamination has affected many people who don’t have footwear and walk around barefoot. Together, their goal is collecting 40,000 pairs.
“The more I just continue to solidify myself, you want to always build your brand and get your fans involved, and do stuff for them to show you appreciate them,” Curry said. “I’m still young in the league, so I’m still trying to figure out my way and my path. More stuff I’ll look into in the summer.”
Curry, who recently signed a deal with Universal Pictures (with details under wraps for now), has the luxury of a seasoned business mentor right by his side: his big brother is one of the hottest athlete brands in the world and an established entrepreneur.
“He’s always in my corner, giving me confidence in whatever it is, whether it’s basketball, off the court,” Curry said. “It definitely works to my benefit to have an old brother who’s been through it. I think the biggest thing is I just try to watch what he does and try to put my own spin on it.”
That individuality represents his love for the outdoors, which he picked up from his father. In the summer, they go dove hunting and game fishing in North Carolina and Virginia, Dell’s home state. Curry enjoys the calming nature of the activities.
Stephen said, smiling, “There might be a battle with that because if I’ve got free time, I want to play golf. Seth has got both sides. He’s got the country boy in him and he’s got the golf bug. I’ve got all the golf genes.”
One time when the brothers were kids, the Curry family and some friends caught a roughly 10-foot, 500-pound sturgeon in Oregon.
“Once it got hooked on the line, it took like two hours to get into the boat,” Curry said. “It was a whole adventure.”
He also enjoys being an uncle to Stephen’s two young daughters, Ryan and Riley. Last season in Sacramento, he would make the one-hour drive to the Bay Area on off-days to see them. This season, he made sure Riley was at each Mavericks’ road game in Oakland, even if it was a school night.
“It’s nice being a cool uncle, and I love seeing them grow up. It’s a little weird with Riley,” he said, laughing. “She blew up overnight. She’s still a little kid, but she’s got a lot of personality.”
Together, the entire family likes playing board games, cooking (Stephen’s wife, Ayesha, has her own book and show), and simply relaxing at home. But come April, there may be a lot of nerves and more traveling to do. That’s because a Warriors-Mavericks first-round matchup could very well happen.
“It would be kind of crazy,” Stephen said. “I still find it crazy and surreal that when we played Dallas, he’s on the scouting report and there’s video of him. So if it’s a playoff series, it’d be crazy to go at it. Hopefully we’re one and they’re eight, and we make it happen.”
“That would be dope,” Curry said. “I’m sure the family would love that one.”