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Why Seth Curry is a perfect shooter for the Sixers

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Dallas Mavericks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers went into the 2020 offseason with two glaring roster issues: shooting, and perimeter creation. They’re still lacking that new high-level perimeter creator, but after a stellar draft day of trades and great-value picks, Daryl Morey has reshaped the Sixers’ roster with the three-point firepower it desperately needed.

Al Horford and Josh Richardson are out, and Danny Green, Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe are in.

Curry in particular stands out. He’s one of the very best shooters in the NBA. And like Sixers fans, he’s excited about his fit with the team next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

“My initial thought was just basketball — how does the basketball part of it fit,” Curry said in his introductory call with media when discussing his reaction to being traded to Philly. “And I was excited about it. Obviously got two guys in Ben and Joel who draw a lot of attention, who can score in the paint and are willing passers and unselfish, so playing with a guy like myself can complement those guys really well, as far as being able to spread the floor, make plays without the ball, with the ball, and just bring a different element to that team.”

When it comes to his partnership with Simmons, Curry believes they’re a perfect fit due to their different, complementary skillsets.

“A lot excites me,” Curry began when explaining why he’s looking forward to playing with Simmons. “First of all, he’s a good player, man. You wanna play with as many good players as possible. He’s one of the best guys in this league on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. He can get downhill and nobody can really stay in front of him one-on-one, so that means you’ve got to bring help and try to put two guys in front of him and stop him from getting a layup. So that’s where guys like myself and Danny and some of the other guys we brought in can help him out, as far as creating space for him to drive and knocking down shots when he creates plays for other people.

“So I feel like me and [Simmons] are kind of a perfect match in the sense that he’s a bigger — I mean, I don’t know if you’d call him a point guard or what — ball-handler who can make plays and defend multiple positions, and I’m kind of a smaller scorer who spreads the floor, shoots, can score in multiple ways, and can guard smaller guys and point guards.”

Spotting up and transition

Seth Curry’s career three-point percentage of 44.2 is the second-best in NBA history. He’s ranked in at least the 95th percentile on spot-ups in three of his last four seasons, ranking in the 98th in each of the last two years. With elite touch, a quick release, range that extends well beyond the arc, and the confidence to shoot even when defenders are closing out on him, he has a perfect off-ball skillset to help space the Sixers’ offense. The improvement from starting hesitant, lower-volume shooters in Richardson and Horford to Curry and Green will be huge.

One area where Curry could grow is shooting off screens. He hasn’t had too many possessions coming off screens over the last two seasons, recording 52 in 2019-20 (ranking in the 54th percentile in efficiency) and 65 in 2018-19 (38th percentile). However, even though he may not be the off-movement shooter that JJ Redick was for Philly in terms of darting off screens and hitting leaning shots at speed, Curry can still do more in this area.

For instance, Dallas ran him off stagger screens at times with actions like those in the next video. Curry has the ability to get his body set, turn into his shots, and fire in a hurry off movement. And even when plays aren’t designed for him, he knows how to relocate off the ball to find space and create easier passing windows for teammates.

Based on what Doc Rivers said at the start of training camp when discussing Curry’s ability to shoot off screens, it certainly sounds like the Sixers’ head coach plans to use it.

“There’s no JJ Redicks [on the team] with that speed and that pace, but Seth can do a lot of those things, and so can Furkan (Korkmaz) and so can Shake (Milton),” Rivers said. “I think we have three guys, in my opinion, that have the chance to do some of that. I thought Brett (Brown) ran some great stuff with JJ and Joel and Ben, and now we have these three guys that we can probably use some of that stuff.”

Curry will also be key in opening up the Sixers’ attacks on fast breaks and helping Simmons thrive in transition. As good as Curry is spotting up in the half court, his ability to shoot from deep without hesitation or pull-up for quick shots on fast breaks is just what Simmons needs next to him.

When Simmons pushes the ball down court or drives inside to draw in the opposition, or defenses simply aren’t set in general, Curry will be ready to make teams pay for it.

Curry handling pick-and-rolls

While Curry may not be a lead guard (mainly due to his playmaking limitations and lack of explosiveness in isolation), he can still help as a secondary ball-handler and serve as an effective pick-and-roll player. He’s been highly efficient when handling pick-and-rolls, ranking in the 88th percentile last season with such plays accounting for 23.2 percent of his total possessions (he ranked in at least the 89th percentile in two of his previous three seasons before 2019-20 as well).

Curry’s impressive pull-up ability is a key part of his scoring efficiency. He’s shot 39.1 percent on pull-up threes over his last four seasons, and can generate space around ball screens with his patience and footwork.

“I think we’ll expand the role,” Rivers said at the start of training camp when asked about increasing Curry’s offensive role. “I think what most people don’t realize is Luka [Doncic] had the ball in his hands more than James Harden had the ball in his hands. So when you have a dominant player like that, you don’t touch the ball as much. Whenever Luka didn’t have the ball, I thought Dallas played through Seth a lot, especially in pick-and-rolls. Playing against him, especially during the playoffs, we were as scared of his shot as his drives. His drives killed us. He’s a clever basketball player.”

Simmons is looking forward to everything Curry has to offer as well, including Curry’s playmaking.

“I’m super excited to play with him,” Simmons said after practice on December 4. “Just the way he plays, he can pass the ball, not only shoot it but pass the ball. His IQ is very high, moves with pace, cuts with intention, and I think it’s going to be very similar to my first couple of years having JJ [Redick] around, and Marco [Belinelli]. Just a younger version, maybe a step quicker. But I think that experience I have with JJ and guys like that is going to help the team a lot just by having a guy like Seth and Danny Green and even Tyrese [Maxey].”

Again, Curry isn’t a lead playmaker and can’t be relied upon to generate offense in isolation. But he’s a solid passer, he knows how to beat scrambling defenses in secondary actions, and he’s effective in the pick-and-roll, with the kind of pull-up ability that the Sixers desperately needed more of. He should be able to work effectively with both Embiid and Simmons as rollers, and even do some screening of his own.

Curry as a screener

When I asked Doc Rivers at the Sixers’ practice on December 9 whether he’s used Simmons much as a roll man, he made it clear that everyone is getting involved as screeners. “Everyone is in a pick-and-roll,” Rivers said. “The one thing you’ll see, there’s a lot of them with Joel setting the pick. There’s a lot with Ben setting the pick. There’s a lot with Seth setting the pick. There’s a lot with Furkan setting picks. Every single player will be involved in a pick-and-roll with the ball and as the picker. And that’s what we’re working on.”

Curry himself has even mentioned at training camp that he likes being used as a screener, and had success doing so with the Mavs last season.

Shooters have worked with Simmons as screeners before, such as JJ Redick and Furkan Korkmaz. When you have a shooter as good as Redick (or Curry) in particular, their screens can be even more valuable. For one, they can force mismatches if their smaller defender switches onto Simmons after the ball screen. Secondly, if opponents don’t switch and they’re worried about staying with the shooter at the perimeter, then a strong ball screen can free up Simmons to get downhill. And if defenders make the mistake of over-helping on Simmons, then it leaves the shooter open.

The video below shows some examples of how well Simmons played off Redick’s screening, which is something Rivers can look to utilize with players like Curry.

When Rivers coached Redick with his Lob City Clippers teams, he had Redick moving around a ton off the ball and setting plenty of screens. He’ll likely use Curry and others in similar ways to help free up teammates (like plays to set back screens for Joel Embiid), and in plenty of pick-and-roll/pop actions like those above.

Curry has a lot of gravity as a shooter to attract extra defensive attention — more so than anyone else on the roster. The Sixers can use it to their advantage with how they deploy him off the ball.

Dribble hand-offs

Curry isn’t the same kind of dribble hand-off threat that JJ Redick was for the Sixers, specifically with Joel Embiid. Redick excels when sprinting at full speed into shots, like when he used to fly around hand-offs from Embiid. Curry, on the other hand, does more of his three-point damage on spot-ups, but can also do more than Redick off the dribble. Even though Curry hasn’t always used too many hand-offs (they only accounted for 4.9 percent of his possessions last season) and doesn’t run around like Redick, the Sixers’ new sharpshooter has the skillset to form a potent duo with Embiid.

Curry can make reads to hit open teammates or find Embiid rolling with pocket passes, and has the ability to operate off the dribble, primarily with his pull-up jumper and floater game. He shot 46.3 percent on all jump shots off the dribble in the half court last season, which ranked in the 91st percentile.

Embiid sees upside for his two-man game with Curry. “We’re learning every single day, especially with Seth, I would probably want to have the same relationship I had with JJ,” Embiid said at practice on December 10. “Especially on the floor, the way we move and the way we move off of each other, I’ll be setting screens for him and he sometimes will be setting screens for me and just play that two-man game. I think we have some potential there.”

While Curry may get more hand-off reps with Embiid, he should be able to have success with Simmons, too. When Simmons’ defender is sagging off, his hand-offs are particularly effective. As long as Simmons’ screen connects, his teammate (i.e. Curry) can take the ball into space — as Simmons’ man isn’t there to switch — and fire away.

Put everything together, and Curry brings a lot to the table in various play types that the Sixers were lacking last season. Of course, he doesn’t solve the problem of having another go-to playmaker or perimeter scorer who can help close games. But when focusing on Curry’s shooting skillset, from pick-and-roll pull-ups to bombing away in transition, he’s an ideal sharpshooter to complement the team’s starters.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and Synergy Sports.