Seth Curry Is Having an All-Time Weirdo Shooter Season
He has perfected the art of the long-ass two.
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Well, that was a Joel Embiid game for the ages. Falling down seven to the Celtics in Boston with four and change to go after leading most of the game, it seemed the Process' big night would be for naught -- particularly as he looked unable himself to find any kind of groove in the fourth, with four TOs to just one made FG in the quarter to that point. But he scored nine points in the final 90 seconds, including three straight jumpers from the left wing (of increasingly difficulty), putting the cream cheese icing on his 41-10-5-2-4 performance as the Sixers secured something rarer than any Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT: a legit road win against the Celtics.
Still, I'm good on talking about the Big Man tonight. I'm more interested in discussing his primary sidekick Seth Curry, who is truly emerging as the strangest elite shooter in recent NBA memory.
Seth Curry is, by almost any measure, having a career season. At age 31, he's playing more than he ever has, with the former journeyman reserve starting all 27 games and averaging easy career highs in points (16.5) and assists (3.1) per game while also shooting his highest percentage from the field (52.4%). He's become as effective a two-man partner with Joel as J.J. Redick was in his “prime,” and while his assist to turnover ratio would leave something to be desired as a true point guard, he's capable enough at running the offense that he can start at the one in cases like last night when the True Point Guardiest option available to us was pulling Royal Ivey out of retirement on his 40th birthday for a third tour of duty. (Happy birthday Royal!!) The defense will always be an issue, but it's safe to say there's no way this team would be near .500 right now, let alone over it, if not for Seth Curry.
Still, if there's one number working against Seth in his otherwise extremely impressive season stat line, it's this: 40.3%. That's what he's shooting from three right now, on just over five attempts per game. Now that's great if you're an average shooter -- or almost exactly par for the course if you're Hollis Thompson -- but for Seth Curry, active leader in career three-point percentage, to be flirting with a long-range conversion rate in the 30s... well, before he came here, you might think that'd be the difference between him being a key role player for this team and him being on the fringes of the rotation. (In fact, before going 3 of 3 from deep last night, his season was below-standard enough for him to drop him below Joe Harris to second in the active career 3PT% rankings.)
But that doesn't matter, because turns out Seth Curry doesn't like taking threes all that much anyway. 5.3 3PAs a game isn't a ton for a dude who plays nearly 35 minutes a night and can at least sorta get his own shot -- it's only marginally more a night than Danny Green (5.1), Georges Niang (5.1) and Furkan Korkmaz (4.8) all take in at least 10 minutes fewer a contest. Hell, it's just a scoch more than Curry himself took (5.0), also in ten fewer minutes a night, mostly coming off the bench his last year in Dallas, when he was only averaging 12.4 PPG. It's his lowest three-point shooting rate in six seasons, and his lowest 3PT% pretty much ever. Not like he's discovered religion getting to the free-throw line either -- 2.3 FTAs a night is a career high, but when you're still basically talking about one trip to the stripe a night, a couple tenths on either side isn't exactly a make-or-break. So how is this player, prize player acquisition of the Daryl Morey era in Philadelphia, still having the signature offensive season of his career?
Simple: He has perfected the art of the long-ass two. A stat going around Twitter before the game last night from Forbes' Shane Young listed the most prolific mid-range shooters from this season, with Seth Curry in the middle of that pack in volume (102 total, about four a night) but head and at least one shoulder above the field in shooting percentage (60.8%) -- by contrast, Embiid had taken 116 at 38.8%. Now I'm not sure how "mid-range" is exactly defined by that stat, but I'm guessing it extends out pretty close to the three point line, because that's really where Seth's bread-and-butter has been this year: He curls around a pick from Embiid at or beyond the arc, takes one step in and fires. No Embiid? No matter: He works his defender across the top of the key, jumps back and fires. End of shot clock? End of game? Get that man in between the imaginary college three-point line and the actual three-point line and he is a dangerously frisky Antonio Banderas. Yes, the key perimeter cog in this Moreyball offense is a guard living off the shot our GM was said to have made as dead as Dillinger.
But he's automatic with it. I've never seen a basketball player -- certainly not on the Sixers -- who is as absolutely locked in from a specific range of the court as Seth is from the warning track this season. When he loads up from not-quite-deep, he looks like Link throwing bombs during the Break the Targets! challenge in original Super Smash Brothers: No matter how contested, no matter how pressured, no matter how far back he is or what angle he's launching from, it's always just plunk and another smashed bullseye. Get him a step behind the arc and the circumstances need to be just so, get him to the shallow wing or the baseline and he might need some help from the rim, but get him to that Thibsiest of shooting zones and it is going down and it will be a no-doubter. (B-R only has him around 60% from 16 feet to the 3PT line; feels low.)
And yet: Even though he's arguably hotter from long-two distance this season than his big bro has ever been from three, Seth still uses any excuse not to shoot. Last night, he made the critical mistake of stepping in for a 15-footer (too close!!) with 3:48 to go -- and after that one rimmed out, he didn't take another shot all game. He had Enes Freedom (yeah, yeah, at least he definitively stinks now) playing five feet back on him coming off one of those Embiid picks down the stretch, and he still elected to hook a pass back to Jo rather than pull up for the jumper he's knocking down at Pop-a-Shot rates right now. Maybe it's Once a Little Brother, Always a Little Brother for Seth, and the week's worth of media hype over the other Curry setting the all-time career three-point record has the runt of the clan not feeling particularly chest-puffed about his current long-two supremacy. It does appear to be the psyche of our all-time weird-great shooter: No matter how scorching he is on any given night, he always feels like the guy next to him is gonna be hotter. (Luckily, for him and for us, he was ultimately proven right last night.)
It's frustrating at times, to be sure, but I still love Seth more than I've loved all but a handful of Sixers in my lifetime. His inside-out scoring schematic is so singularly funky in an increasingly rigidly formalistic game, and his hesitation to ever fully embrace his greatness is so human -- and, let's face it, so impossibly Sixers. And his specific type of deadliness is the kind I find the most maddening to be playing against, when you're forcing a player to take the exact kind of shots the math says for you to make them take, and they're still hitting so many of them that it doesn't matter. I'd be mad angry about Joel's 41 if I was a Boston fan last night, but I'd be furious about Seth's 26. He isn't the star running mate Joel needs, but particularly while Tyrese is out, he's the guy who's keeping the team on the right side of watchable, and maybe on the right side of the stealth tank as well.