Nobody was quite sure what to expect from Seth Curry when he joined the Portland Trail Blazers last summer. The younger and decidedly less famous of the Curry boys, he hadn’t played since the end of 2016-17, the best of his career, due to an extended absence with a left leg injury. First deemed a stress fracture, Curry lost the entire 2017-18 season after he opted for surgery last February. Unable to build on a fantastic 2016-17 campaign, Curry went into unrestricted free agency last summer with far fewer suitors than he would have the year before. All that meant the Trail Blazers were able to pick him up for a mere $2.8 million contract for 2018-19, a sort of make-good contract that would allow him to rehab his value league-wide and get back in free agency in 2019.
There’s still about a third of the season left, plus the playoffs, but it’s safe to say at this point that Curry’s shown that most of what he showed in 2016-17 remains well within his grasp. A low-usage off guard, his ability to space the floor highlights everything he does – he’s hitting 46.5 percent of his threes on very good volume. There have been only 19 seasons in NBA history in which a player made better than 45 percent of his threes on 7.5 attempts per 100 possessions, and Curry has one of them this year. The Curry family as a whole has their fingerprints all over this list – brother Stephen has two such seasons and father Dell has one.
The shooting has been spectacular for the third consecutive year in which he’s played, dating back to 2015-16 with Sacramento. The best year of his young career was also his worst from beyond the three-point line, as he shot “only” 42.5 percent from deep with Dallas two years ago. Now with nearly three full years of high-level shooting, it’s safe to say that Curry is one of the best shooters in the NBA playing today.
If you were to pick nits with Curry’s shooting prowess, it is notable that his shooting off movement has been much worse than his standstill spot-up attempts. He’s scoring in the 17th percentile in off-screen attempts, per Synergy, while every one of his spot-up numbers are absolutely elite: he’s in the 98th percentile overall and the very best player in the league in spot-up catch-and-shoot jumpers. Leave him unguarded and he’s as lethal as they come, which brings a ton of value to the Portland offense.
His on-the-move shooting hasn’t been quite as strong as it was during his time in Dallas, but the size of this particular sample isn’t large enough to draw definite conclusions. The fact that his usage is relatively low in these areas and the efficiency comes and goes indicates that he’s not quite in the top of the top tier in terms of league-wide shooters. Players like Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, and Kyle Korver ignite so much fear in opposing defenders because of their ability to get their feet set and shoot from just about anywhere and any angle, but Curry hasn’t shown to have that skill quite as well developed as the rest of his shooting game at this point.
Elsewhere, Curry’s creation has been mostly stymied in Portland as he’s playing a relatively strict secondary role in Terry Stotts’ system. He gets his fair share of pick-and-roll opportunities as a result of his secondary role, but when he’s playing in his normal rotation spot off the Portland bench, it’s Evan Turner who gets the call as the team’s primary creator on a lot of possessions. Still, between his work this season and in his lone playing season with the Mavericks, there’s an argument to be made that he’s underutilized in this area for the Trail Blazers. It’s not a criticism of Stotts or his staff that Curry hasn’t gotten as many chances as the team’s primary creator – it makes all the sense in the world to play Curry off the ball when he shares the floor with Turner, who isn’t a threat to shoot from outside the way most perimeter players are these days. If he’s on the court with Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, there can be no argument that the ball should be in Curry’s hands on a consistent basis unless they’re working an off-ball play for one of their stars.
Where all that will leave Curry this summer will be very interesting. He’s defined himself as a role player on a very good Portland team and his elite spot-up shooting will serve him well as he moves forward in his career. Due to spending five years in college (he had to sit out a year between his freshman season at Liberty and his sophomore season at Duke), two further years in which he played a grand total of 21 minutes for Memphis, Cleveland, and Phoenix, and the lost year last season, Curry’s already 28 despite this being just his third real season as a full-time role player for a team. Where you come down on his ceiling depends heavily on how you view age and player development curves; optimists will point to his relative inexperience and preach patience, while pessimists will contend that very few players truly make a leap from role player to starter at his age. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it can be agreed that Curry’s a solid bench piece at the very least, as he’s shown for the Trail Blazers so far this season.