What to Expect from New Dallas Mavericks Guard Seth Curry

The Dallas Mavericks signed combo guard Seth Curry on July 15th to little fanfare. That is, unless you want to count the ironic excitement of seeing Dallas potentially start a Bizarro Golden State Warriors lineup in Mavericks jerseys as fanfare. And that’s okay. Seth Curry’s road to the NBA has been long and mostly unheralded, thus a muted response to Seth Curry signing with the Mavericks is to be expected, despite the worldwide name recognition of his older brother, Steph.

Seth Curry went undrafted in 2013, and for two seasons bounced around between the D-League and three different NBA teams under 10-day and non-guaranteed contracts. During this time, Curry played in four total NBA games. In July 2015, he signed a two-year deal (second year, player option) with the Sacramento Kings. With the Kings, Curry was able to carve out minutes as a rotation player and eventually started nine games toward the end of the season. After the 2015-16 season ended, he opted out of the second year of his contract, became a restricted free agent, and signed with Dallas to a two-year deal that is reportedly just under $6 million.

So what exactly are the Mavericks getting out of a player entering his fourth season with only 48 NBA games under his belt? In a word: shooting.

I hear the skepticism, partly because that skepticism is an echo of my own initial doubts: The fact that his last name is Curry doesn’t guarantee he is a great shooter. Fair enough. Let’s dig in and find out. If we accept the premise that a player's free throw percentage is a good indicator of their overall shooting ability, then Seth Curry already shows great promise. Over his three years at Duke, Curry shot 82.4% from the free throw line. And as a professional, he has exceeded even that high bar:

Seth Curry Career Free Throw Percentage, by team:

Santa Cruz Warriors (D-League 2013-14):

85.3 %

Erie Bayhawks (D-League 2014-15):

92.3 %

Sacramento Kings (2015-16):

83.3 %

There is a dip in Seth Curry’s free throw percentage last season with Sacramento, but something very interesting happens when we look at his stats after the All-Star break when his overall playing time increased from 10.1 to 23.1 minutes per game. Before the All-Star break, Curry shot 76.0% on one free throw attempt per game; after the All-Star game, he shot much better (89.7%) on more (1.5) attempts per game.

2015-16 Free Throw Percentage

Pre All-Star

76.0 %

Post All-Star

89.7 %

So what’s the big deal? Seth Curry is a great free throw shooter, but why does that even matter? It matters because it is a way to judge and predict his shooting ability elsewhere on the floor. Therefore, we expect good free throw shooters to be good jump shooters as well.  

We know Curry’s average playing time more than doubled after the All-Star break. Obviously, we expect to see better scoring and more counting stats with increased playing time (See also: good stats, bad team), but in circumstances like this, we often see a player’s efficiency take a hit. So what happened to Seth Curry’s shooting percentages with the extra playing time?

2015-16 Season

Minutes

Points

FG%

3P%

Pre All-Star

10.1

3.5

43.8%

41.9%

Post All-Star

23.1

11.1

46.3%

46.3%

Seth Curry’s shooting percentages improved significantly with a bigger role. Curry’s accuracy contradicts the generalization that a younger, less experienced player thrust into a bigger role will see their shooting percentages dip. There are possibly other factors which might affect these stats, but even so, we are seeing excellent shooting percentages from the guard position and elite three-point percentages (3P%) with more playing time. And please understand: to say Seth Curry’s three point shooting is elite is not hyperbole or exaggeration.  

The top three players’ three-point shooting percentage, minimum 82 three-pointers made (3PM), in the 2015-16 NBA season were: JJ Redick (47.5%), Steph Curry (45.4%), and Kawhi Leonard (44.3%). Seth Curry’s three-point percentage for the full season (50 3PM) was 45.0%, which is good enough for third place behind big brother Steph.

In his first professional season with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Curry shot 37.2% from beyond the arc on 7.0 attempts a game (38 games played). The following season, he shot 46.7% from three on 7.8 attempts per game (43 games played) for the Erie Bayhawks. For the Kings, Curry shot 45.0% from deep on fewer attempts (2.5 per game) in a similar number of games played (44), which aligns closely to his performance the previous season.

I argue that the big leap from Curry’s three-point percentage in his first D-League season and the following seasons is the result of a tumultuous transition from college to the pros. It’s reasonable to imagine the pressure of breaking into the NBA after his father and brother, punctuated by unsuccessful call-ups to the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies, in that first season would translate into a subpar performance relative to his true skill level. Oh and big caveat: 37.2% from beyond the arc is still really good. It is better than what Curry’s new teammates Dirk Nowitzki (36.8%), Wesley Matthews (36.0%), and Deron Williams (34.4%) shot last season.

While we should always interpret D-League stats with caution since the level of play and the defenses faced are not at the NBA level, we can see that Seth Curry’s 2015-16 three point shooting percentage is likely closer to a real mean rather than a statistical outlier. When weighing all of this, I think we can now say with confidence that Seth Curry is a great shooter.  But what does that mean for the Mavs? Why not let Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tell us.

As part of an ESPN radio interview on The Afternoon Show with Cowlishaw and Mosley, Cuban said that Seth Curry is “almost automatic from three.” He said this referring specifically to catch-and-shoot situations, remarking that last season “[The Mavericks] really didn’t have that.” In a more widely reported comment from the same interview, Cuban also said he thinks a three-point threat like Curry would “will make life a little bit easier for Dirk [Nowitzki].” Yup, Cuban is basically right on the mark here.

The preliminary indications are that Curry will have a significant role in Dallas; however, he is by no means penciled in as a starter. Although Curry is a combo guard, able to play the point or off the ball as a shooting guard, he is behind two established starters in Deron Williams and Wes Matthews (and, presumably, Dallas veteran JJ Barea as well). How Mavs coach Rick Carlisle plans to utilize Curry in his offense is still largely speculation.

Seth Curry’s path to minutes goes through Rick Carlisle, and Carlisle is notorious for burying rookies and young players on the bench.  If former Sacramento Kings coach George Karl can be taken at his word, he identified Curry as the Kings’ best on-ball defender--a vote of confidence that was also accompanied by more playing time last season. Whether or not Karl was engaged in an old-fashioned version of subtweeting is not important; the “Defense leads to more minutes” strategy is still one that Curry would be wise to pursue in Dallas.

Curry can score and has shown some skill at running the pick and roll. He is not very turnover prone (ahem: small sample size) and can drive into the paint to either score or kick it out to a shooter. He is an ideal target as a spot-up shooter from three and I’m sure Carlisle will devise a few ways to get him open and get the ball to him. I suspect that he will be most useful off the bench as part of a mixed unit that leverages the shooting threat he poses alongside the starters’ offense. Which brings us back to Dirk. Nowitzki, now entering his 19th season, remains a unique offensive weapon, and with improved shooting on the floor thanks to Curry, defenses will be pressured into making errors on timing or spacing that Dirk can exploit.

And who else is curious to see if a Mavericks small ball unit with Dirk at the five, Harrison Barnes at the four, Matthews and Curry on the wings, and Deron Williams running point could be viable? I’m very doubtful it would work for extended minutes, but theoretical basketball needs to see this experiment on the hardwood.

Seth Curry’s contract looks like a great deal for both sides. Curry escaped the chaos of Sacramento, and Dallas added youth and potential to its roster. With the new realities of the salary cap spike, the Dallas Mavericks’ front office has made a small bet on a player who should make an impact as a role player and may well outperform expectations. And by signing a two-year deal with the Mavericks, Seth Curry is taking another step forward in his NBA career with a team that will provide the means and opportunity to break out.


 
 

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