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Seth Curry is firing on all cylinders for Sixers

Portland Trail Blazers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Seth Curry wasn’t his usual self after being diagnosed with COVID-19 last season. He returned to action after missing seven games in early January, but lingering effects persisted at times. For the next few months, he worked on getting his conditioning back to normal and dealt with spells of low energy.

As the regular season wound down, Curry started heating up and looked more comfortable hunting for his shots again. Then he simply exploded in the playoffs, putting together a sensational offensive run in which he averaged 18.8 points with a ridiculous 72.7 true shooting percentage.

Now, Curry is building off that form to start the 2021-22 season.

Through eight games, Curry has been on fire. He’s averaging a career-high 17.1 points per game (up from his previous best of 12.8 in 2016-17 with Dallas) and already has four 20-point games — it took him 57 games last regular season to record 11. On top of that production, he’s shooting an absurd 68.2 percent from two-point range, making 53.7 percent of his threes on a career-high 5.1 attempts per game, and has a 84.6 percent stroke from the free throw line. Put all that together, and he has the best true shooting percentage in the entire league at 75.5.

Of course, these shooting percentages aren’t sustainable. He won’t make nearly 55 percent of his threes all year and can’t shoot 66.7 percent from mid-range forever. But Curry’s giving the Sixers exactly what they need from him. He’s sustaining his increased aggressiveness from late last season, not letting closeouts faze him as much as a shooter (which bothered him at times in the earlier stages of 2020-21), and providing confident scoring off the dribble.

The Sixers’ overall pace has dropped this season, falling to last in the NBA as they continue with their new Ben Simmons-less rotation. However, they are emphasizing making more quick outlet passes to create easy points in transition when possible, and have climbed to second in fast break points at 16.5 per game — boosted by 34 such points against the Hawks on Saturday.

Curry is often at the heart of success when he’s on the floor, and knows the importance of running, pushing the pace in transition, and trying to create more easy points.

“We got stops and run out. We’ve got to get more of that,” Curry said after the Sixers’ 122-94 win against the Hawks. “That’s a big part that Ben brought to us last year, the transition game. So we’ve got to figure out ways to rebound and push up the floor fast and get easy buckets. And we did a good job of that tonight. Tyrese [Maxey] was good at that when he got the ball, pushing the ball up the floor. Advance passing. So we’ve gotta continue to get better at that.”

With Curry consistently hitting fast-break threes without hesitating against closeouts from recovering defenders, he’s certainly doing his part.

He even ranks in the 100th percentile in transition so far, making 13-of-16 of his transition shots. That percentage will obviously drop as more games are played, but he still ranked in the 73rd percentile last year. Impressive efficiency can be expected from Curry.

His performance against the Trail Blazers on Nov. 1 was a good example of his complementary work off the bounce. Curry scored 23 points, and despite only going 3-of-10 from three (that volume is ideal, though), he shot a perfect 7-of-7 from inside the arc and hit several important shots off the dribble late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Curry scored or assisted on the Sixers’ last nine points against Portland, stepping up when the team needed him to help keep the offense humming without Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid. There was more of the same on Wednesday night against the Bulls, as the Sixers earned a 103-98 win with Harris still out due to health and safety protocols. Curry scored 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting with three assists, including six key points late in the fourth quarter.

Whether Curry is using dribble hand-offs and pick-and-rolls for pull-up jumpers or selective drives into the lane, or setting up teammates as a secondary ball-handler, he’s doing what Philly needs him to.

“[Curry] has been incredible,” Embiid said after Philly’s win against Chicago. “I mean his shot-making ability, especially with me struggling all over the floor and just shooting the ball and making the normal shots that I usually make, has been amazing. You go back and since the season started, especially the last game, obviously this one, making big shots after big shots.”

Curry has increased his percentage of jump shots that are coming off the dribble, giving a Sixers team that clearly needs more perimeter creation as much help as he can. After off-the-bounce jumpers accounted for 44.6 percent of his jump shots in 2020-21, that number is up to 52.2 percent this season.

“I have always been able to put the ball on the floor and score and shoot from the mid-range, get to the rim, and do different things,” Curry said on Wednesday. “Me with my size, I’m not just going to stand there and get up a lot of threes without another element, so I have always worked on adding different things to my game.”

For now, Curry is averaging a similar number of pull-up three-point attempts per game (1.5, making them at a 41.7 percent clip) as last season. He’s picking his shots well so far this season, but increasing his three-point volume slightly would be the next way for him to take yet another step forward.

In half-court settings, the impact of Curry’s gravity is as strong as ever. Defenses have to think about sending extra help whenever he relocates into space or comes off a ball screen, where he can calmly hit pull-up threes off a dribble or two. And when he uses that gravity against opponents, he doesn’t always need to make advanced passes to open up his teammates.

Take the play below, for example. The Sixers run Curry to the strong side of the court and load up the left wing as he dribbles around Andre Drummond. Curry’s defender (CJ McCollum) is left trailing, Jusuf Nurkic steps up high to help on a potential pull-up three, and Tyrese Maxey’s defender (Anfernee Simons) even gets drawn across by Curry as well and stays in the middle of the floor. Once Curry has the attention of all three defenders and Simons is left flat footed and facing away from Maxey, Curry promptly sets up Maxey on the move. And once Maxey is heading downhill with his defender and the opposing rim protector drawn away from the basket, there’s not much you can do to catch up with him:

“When I’m coming off ball screens, my job is to draw two and then move it on,” Curry said after beating the Blazers. “I think everybody tonight was unselfish moving the ball, getting good shots. That’s why we were able to get the win.”

The more willing he is to keep launching pull-up threes, the more defenses will gravitate towards him and leave openings for others to attack in the process.

Curry has been a vital part of the Sixers’ offense ever since the day he arrived in Philly last year. Now, he has good health on his side, an aggressive mindset, and plenty of opportunity to attack in an offense that needs everything he has to offer.

Even when his percentages cool off from this red-hot start, he looks set to build off his strong play late last season and put together what could be the best year of his career yet.