What do Seth Curry and Steph Curry have in common?
Aside from being brothers, aside from spending a week together in China recently to participate in some Jr. NBA clinics, and aside from being two of the most accurate 3-point shooters in NBA history, the Curry brothers had almost identical perimeter scoring numbers last season, albeit in different roles.
If you think of the most important areas for a scoring guard to excel in, the first thing you might think of is simply the ability to shoot the 3-ball, whether it’s coming off a screen or simply just stand-still shooting. The next things to come to mind would be ability in the pick-and-roll, and then a guard’s capability in isolation, when he’s got to make something out of nothing.
When you put all four of those actions into a chart and spit out the results, the Curry brothers finished 2016-17 right next to each other. Steph scored 1.082 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a spot-up shooter, coming off screens, and in isolation. Seth scored 1.079 points per possession in those four scenarios. Among qualifying players, they finished fourth and fifth — right at the top of the league. (More on this below.)
I got the idea to do this after reading an article by Ian Levy of Nylon Calculus, who measured the three key areas of scoring for big men to see how Kings first-year player Skal Labissiere stacked up as a rookie. Levy counted post-up scoring, spot-up shooting, and scoring after setting a screen (in the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop). It turns out Labissiere scored more efficiently in those areas than players like Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, and Kristaps Porzingis. But he didn’t outdo one familiar name.
Levy’s complete list is below, and check out who finished at No. 5.
Fifth on the list was Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 1.02 points per possession combined in the post, when spotting up, and as a screener. And that was during a season in which the German legend battled a nagging Achilles for more than two months before finally finding his groove. Even in a relatively down year, Dirk was still one of the best.
That got me thinking about which play types you’d look up in Synergy’s massive database to evaluate perimeter scoring. There are select actions that some teams use more than others, such as hand-offs. Some perimeter players are very effective in transition or fast breaks, but I didn’t include those because I wanted to focus on halfcourt offense. That’s how I arrived at the four play types: pick-and-roll ball-handler, spot-up shooting, isolation, and coming off screens. The only rule for qualifying was a player had to record at least 50 possessions in each category — I set out to find out who the most well-rounded perimeter scorers are, after all.
Overall, 42 players qualified, including three Mavericks. The top-10, sorted by overall points per possession, is listed below. (Click here to see the full list.)
Curry finds himself in some pretty incredible company. The players above and below him on this list are among the best at their positions in the NBA, with a ton of All-Star and All-NBA appearances, and even a few rings between them. Basically, if you were asked to make a list of the best perimeter scorers in the NBA, you’d start with some of these guys.
One thing that’s separating Seth Curry from his brother and some of the other names on this list, however, is volume. Seth used only 642 possessions combined, whereas Steph used 1,091. Further down the list, at No. 16, James Harden used 1,666. (Russell Westbrook, who finished 29th out of 42 in PPP, led with 1,667 possessions used.)
Curry wasn’t the focal point of the Mavs’ offense in 2016-17. Harrison Barnes was in that role for most of the season, and Nowitzki also was to a degree once he came back. Barnes was one of two other Mavericks to qualify for the list, and he finished 24th in PPP among the 42. Wesley Matthews was the other, and he finished 30th, just one spot behind Westbrook. (Deron Williams recorded enough possessions while still with the Mavs to qualify, as well, but he also played with the Cavs.)
Curry’s success last season, however, has to get you thinking about what kind of role he could have within the offense next season. The Mavs figure to run a more wide-open offense next season, with a healthy J.J. Barea and the addition of rookie Dennis Smith Jr. at point guard. Last season, injuries limited the number of lead guards available so the Mavericks relied more on Barnes in isolation and the post. With more downhill driving and ball movement, that could open things up more for perimeter players like Curry to go to work against an off-balance defense.
The balance between usage rate and efficiency is very delicate. In other words: If Curry uses 200 more possessions next season, will his points per possession mark remain the same? Or even close to the same? His blistering 2016-17 campaign put him among the league’s most exclusive company. If he can repeat that performance, only with an expanded role, he could become one of the most effective perimeter players in the NBA.
The foundation is certainly there. Players don’t accidentally put together extremely efficient seasons, especially when taking so many different play types into consideration. Well-rounded scoring is an art form in its own right; that’s what cost players like Jimmy Butler position on the list. He was phenomenal as a spot-up shooter and coming off screens, but he didn’t score at an elite clip in isolation, which knocked him down to 21st on the list. The same could even be said for Barnes, who scored very well in three of the four areas, but his 0.738 PPP mark as a pick-and-roll ball-handler pushed him down to 24th. Earlier this year he said he’s working to improve that area of his game.
Curry must also improve, of course. Stagnation or complacency is never the goal. And there’s much more to basketball than the ability to put the ball in the hoop. Guards have to be able to run offense, see the floor, and make the right decisions, but this list is only focusing on the scoring element. Perhaps the biggest challenge of them all for the emerging scorer is continuing to score at such a high level while also increasing his workload. If Seth Curry can do that, the sky is the limit for his offensive game.