Seth Curry is doing things that not even his coach necessarily knew he was capable of when he signed with the Mavericks last summer.

The combo guard’s first real NBA minutes came last season, at age 25, when he appeared in what had been a career-high 44 games for the Kings, when he was already three years removed from his college days at Duke. He played just 15.7 minutes per game in Sacramento, and never really had the freedom or role to do much else besides shoot 3s.

Upon arriving to Dallas, Curry was a career 45.1 percent 3-point shooter, but nearly half of his total field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. This season, however, almost 55 percent of his shots have been 2s. Now that he’s on the ball more, running pick-and-rolls more frequently and earning the freedom to attack mismatched big men off the dribble, Curry has consistently flashed a dynamic inside scoring ability that no one knew he had.

He’s shooting 63.8 percent from within the restricted area this season, three percentage points above the league-average mark, and that’s including centers who do nothing but dunk. He’s also hit 58.9 percent of his 73 attempts from within the paint but outside the restricted area, which is more than 17 percentage points above league average. And since becoming a starter full-time on Jan. 12, his numbers all across the floor are even more impressive. (See the chart.)

Believe it or not, Rick Carlisle didn’t quite know Curry had it in him.

The Mavs head coach admitted he didn’t watch much film of Curry last season. At the time, who could blame him? Toward the beginning of the year he was buried on the Kings’ depth chart, and at the very end of the season when he was finally earning minutes, albeit for a tanking Sacramento squad, Dallas wasn’t scheduled to play any of the teams Curry was going up against. When he joined the Mavericks, Carlisle knew he could shoot. He didn’t know he could do what he’s doing now, but he’s not shocked that Curry has become the player he is.

“Am I surprised by his skill set and creativity? Not really, based on the bloodlines,” the coach said. “He does a lot of the things that his brother does.”

Somewhere along the way, however, Carlisle noticed Curry has some serious off-the-dribble capabilities. This season in the pick-and-roll, he’s scored 1.158 points per possession in the pick-and-roll when the defender goes over the pick, and 1.108 PPP when defenders go into the pick, coverages against which players typically will drive the ball instead of pulling up for a jumper. Both are elite marks. He’s scored 54 points in 41 possessions when taking it all the way to the basket, per Synergy, and 36 points on 25 runners. Suddenly, he’s looking like a pretty complete combo guard.

“He’s good going both right and left, he’s got the long-range and the mid-range, and he’s deceptive with the floaters around the basket,” Carlisle said.

Because of both Curry’s last name and his individual shooting prowess, a proven and known ability before coming to Dallas, defenders show him respect beyond the arc. Now that he’s added an off-the-dribble element, though, it’s made attacking close-outs much more of a gamble.

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And in pick-and-roll combinations with Nerlens Noel, Harrison Barnes, or Dirk Nowitzki, defenses face a very tough choice, with Nowitzki in particular. You can’t pay too much attention to Curry because the big man will be open, but you certainly can’t abandon him, either.

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“I’ve been getting put in good spots to attack the basket,” Curry said. “We have good spacing out there right now as a team, so if you’re a guard who can be quick off the dribble and make plays and get to the rim, you’ll have space to do that. If not, you’ll have open teammates on the perimeter. The amount of threats we have out there right now is making our offense very tough to guard.”

There’s been an extraordinary improvement in the Mavs’ pick-and-roll offense since moving Curry into the starting lineup full-time. Since that move, which came on Jan. 12, Mavs ball-handlers are scoring 0.940 points per possession in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy. Across the entire season, that scoring rate would rank second in the NBA. Before then, they’d scored just 0.803 points per possession, which would rank 24th. Dallas is 16-9 since that lineup change.

Curry himself, meanwhile, is scoring exactly 1 point per possession in the pick-and-roll, which ranks ninth in the league among the 66 players with at least 200 chances. In terms of efficiency, he ranks ahead of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, and even his brother.

Seth Curry Stats Points/gm Field Goal % 3-Point % True Shooting %
Starting for Mavs 15.6 49.2 45.2 61.2
2016-17 Season 12.9 48.7 43.5 60.5
Career Pre-Mavs 6.3 44.8 45.2 59.5

As surprises go, this one hasn’t been half bad, huh? In just two months, Curry has gone from relatively unknown commodity to a Most Improved Player contender. But his development hasn’t come completely out of the blue. Back at the very beginning of training camp, Carlisle urged Curry to attack the basket whenever the chance was there. After the Mavs’ open scrimmage, which came days even before the team’s first preseason game, Curry explained his coach’s plan.

“Try to be versatile, be who I am, be aggressive,” he said in September. “He’s been really challenging me to get the ball in the paint, make plays, and not just settle for outside shots.”

Seth has been compared to Steph for his entire professional career, and he’s the son of long-time sharpshooter Dell. But while earlier this season the Maverick was playing in his two-time MVP big brother’s shadow, now the comparisons are more generous to the little bro: Seth is averaging 22.6 points per game since the All-Star break and out-shooting Steph from the field and from deep.

“I don’t know about other people, the way they look at it, but for me, I’m just Seth,” he said after that preseason scrimmage. “I know my potential and what I can do, and that’s what I base myself off of, not what my brother did or my dad did. … I think the more people watch me, the more they see different things I can do. I’m not just a shooter that I get labeled as a lot, but it is what it is.”

That turned out to be bit of a prophecy, and Rick Carlisle and the Mavs sure are glad it’s turned out to be true.

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