The Portland Trail Blazers took a relatively cheap gamble on guard Seth Curry in free agency, signing him to a two-year contract with only the 2018-19 season guaranteed.
Curry, the younger brother of former NBA MVP Stephen Curry, has flashed effective offensive potential in the past, most notably during the 2016-17 season with the Dallas Mavericks.
However, Curry missed the 2017-18 season due to a fractured tibia in his left leg. The injury may have affected Curry’s stock as a free agent, but now that Curry has landed in Portland, he will be given a chance to contribute off the bench.
Curry was, at times, the primary ball handler when he was on the floor with the Mavericks. But with Portland’s star-studded backcourt, Curry may be playing alongside one of either Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum for a majority of his minutes.
In Portland’s flow offense, Curry could be used in multiple ways. If Curry is the ball handler, he would be able to distribute the ball to one of two shooters coming off of screens — on the ball side and the weak side, respectively. Of course, Curry would have the option to take what the defense gives him, and drive to the lane as well.
That said, it could benefit the Blazers more if Curry is one of the shooters coming off of screens, rather than distributing the ball.
During the 2016-17 season, Curry shot 48 percent from the field, and 42 percent from beyond the arc. By moving Curry off of the ball — especially if one of either Lillard or McCollum is on the floor with him — Curry can utilize screens to create enough space for an open look.
As expected, Curry’s true shooting percentage during the 2016-17 season was higher — registering at just over 60 percent. The luxury of having a player of Curry’s caliber come off the bench is that he can create his own shots if necessary.
But the Blazers could also easily draw plays to get him open looks, as well. To use Curry’s 2016-17 season as an example once again, his usage percentage, 19.5 percent, was the highest of his career.
If Portland runs Curry off of a flare screen, running toward a corner three-point look on the weak side, Curry could get a step on his defender, leading to an open three-point attempt. Or, if the defensive switch is late, Curry could drive to the baseline — this could either result in a layup, or Curry could pass to a cutter going through the lane.
The other option in this scheme is to run Curry off of a down screen, taking him from the baseline to the three-point line, near the ball handler. This is similar to what the Warriors do with Curry’s brother, Stephen, when he plays off the ball.
If the Blazers let Curry control the offense when he replaces Lillard, Curry could also run some of the simple give-and-go concepts that Lillard runs in a two-man game. While Lillard and Curry are different athletes — and Lillard finds plenty of success getting to the rim in these scenarios, Curry could still spell Lillard by driving to the basket, or pull up for a mid-range jumper.
The Blazers will have other potential bench options in the backcourt, but the headliner of Portland’s 2018 draft class, Anfernee Simons, likely won’t see much time. Simons is just 19, and he skipped college basketball, so he is not expected to be a factor for the Blazers for the foreseeable future.
Gary Trent Jr., acquired by the Blazers as a second-round pick via Sacramento, has flashed on Portland’s Summer League squad. But he too is only 19. Curry, if healthy, brings more experience as a reserve to a Blazers team that has made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons.
Lillard and McCollum will see the lion’s share of minutes in Portland’s backcourt. Lillard is a star, and McCollum has earned a nice reputation as well. But when the Blazers opt to stagger their minutes, Curry has the potential to come in and ignite Portland’s offense in spurts.