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Despite COVID-19, Seth Curry was a playoff revelation for the Sixers. Can he keep it up? | Mike Sielski

Curry's postseason numbers and play were superstar-caliber. Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers will need him to maintain that level of productivity this entire season.

Sixers guard Seth Curry raises up for a shot during a training-camp practice at the team's facility in Camden, N.J.
Sixers guard Seth Curry raises up for a shot during a training-camp practice at the team's facility in Camden, N.J.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

When Seth Curry is going good, when the gym is empty in the summertime and he’s getting his shots in, he establishes in his mind some marks that he has to hit, and the calculus often comes down to this: 500 in 45. That’s a quick workout. That’s keeping himself right, keeping himself in tune: 500 in 45.

“Say I’m going to come in and get 500 makes and get out, that type of thing,” he was saying in a phone conversation the other day. “I’ve done it pretty fast a couple of times. Five hundred? It shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes.”

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That’s what 500 in 45 means. Five hundred made shots in 45 minutes or less. More than 11 makes per minute. That skill had been in such short supply for the 76ers in recent years until Curry arrived last November in a trade from the Dallas Mavericks, and it was one of the few factors that kept the Sixers’ second-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks from being more embarrassing than it was. All of his statistics improved or increased from the regular season to the postseason: minutes, field goals, field-goal attempts, three-pointers, three-point attempts, shooting percentage, three-point percentage, points per game. But against Atlanta, he was something close to a superstar for seven games, scoring 21 points a game, shooting better than 61% from the field and nearly 60% from three-point range.

“That’s how we want to use him,” Doc Rivers, the Sixers’ coach and Curry’s father-in-law, said Wednesday. “We talked about it going into the playoffs. We thought he led our team in passed-up open shots, for the most part. The playoffs are a different beast, too. You get into a series, and you fall on something you take advantage of, and you use it. You stick with it.”

Rivers and the Sixers might not have another choice this season. For the times that Ben Simmons clogged up the halfcourt offense, for all the times he shunned the rim or even an open pullup jumper for fear that he might have to go to the foul line, Simmons was more than just a spoiled wannabe star who was scared to shoot. He delivered great defense on the perimeter and in the post, and without those benefits, the Sixers will have to compensate in other ways. Perhaps by being better and more productive on offense. Perhaps by counting on Curry more. The transition will not be easy. Rivers put the Sixers through a lengthy film session and two-hour-plus practice Wednesday at their headquarters in Camden, as if he and everyone else on the team knew that their work would be harder now without Simmons. Which it will.

“It’s been pretty smooth, surprisingly,” Curry said. “Everybody is locked in and focused on the new season, doing what we’ve got to do. I guess we’re treating it kind of like an injury. Guys go out a certain period, and there’s no excuse. You still got to play. You’ve still got to come to work every day. Guys have a great professional mindset. The only time we have to deal with it is when we talk to you guys in the media.”

Over stints with seven teams, over Curry’s five full NBA seasons, no one has ever needed him to be a centerpiece of a team, let alone one with the Sixers’ championship aspirations. No one has ever expected or needed him to be anything close to what his older brother Stephen has been for the Golden State Warriors. Such a comparison would be unfair. Seth ain’t Steph. But sometimes it takes reaching a certain age and a certain career stage to gain a full measure of a person’s possibilities. Curry is 31, hardly past his prime, and his postseason performance gave everyone a glimpse of the player he can be here, one who balances the floor for Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, who gets open shots because of them and creates open shots for them.

That Curry did as much as he did last season for the Sixers was fairly remarkable as it was, given that he contracted COVID-19 in January and that its effects lingered for months afterward. From the moment he was yanked from a game against the Brooklyn Nets until the midpoint of the summer, Curry never got scared about his health, but he also never quite felt right, either. He quarantined for 10 days, then struggled to maintain a high energy level. He found himself falling asleep in the middle of the day, drifting off to long naps. Even during the playoffs, he said, “I felt like I wouldn’t be back to where I wanted to be until I had an offseason to train and get back to a hundred percent.”

So here’s his shot, without Simmons in the lineup, to show everyone. Spend a few seconds searching the Internet, and you’ll find a viral video from the 2020 offseason that shows Tyler Relph, Curry’s personal skills trainer, putting him through a full-speed shooting drill – that makes it clear that Curry can sink the same number of shots in 45 minutes that it would take you or me a month to make.

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Last year, he did such drills for just two weeks because of the pandemic and the lockdown. This summer, he did them every day at Relph’s training facility in Dallas – the same city where Curry lives.

“You run him through segments of actions that Doc would put him through,” Relph said over the phone Wednesday morning. “Get him shots that he could get him in a game. We do different types of shooting drills: timed drills, where he’s got to try to make 30 shots in a minute-and-a-half. He’s got to shoot a spot shot and can’t miss two in a row. Once he gets going, he makes a lot of shots. He’s a Curry. He’s been able to shoot it his whole life.”

No team has ever counted on that quality more than the one he’s on now.