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Stephen's dad was a great sharpshooter too
by David Friedman / April 22, 2008

Dell CurryStephen Curry thrilled college basketball fans by averaging 32 ppg in this year’s NCAA Tournament. He is a quick handed sharpshooter who shot .483 from the field and averaged 2 spg during the 2007-08 season. Two decades ago, his father Dell was a quick handed, sharpshooting All-America guard at Virginia Tech, leading the Hokies to four straight postseason tournaments while setting the school’s career scoring record (2,389 points, a mark since broken by Bimbo Coles). Dell Curry remains the Hokies’ all-time steals leader with 295 in 126 games.

The resemblance between the older and younger Curry is uncanny. They have similar body types, similar facial features and their games are very similar, both stylistically and statistically, though the younger Curry may end up having the better collegiate career if he keeps up his current pace; Dell averaged 24.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.8 apg as a senior, while Stephen averaged 25.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 2.8 apg as a sophomore in 2007-08.

Although Dell Curry became one of the great three-point shooters in NBA history, the three-point shot was only used experimentally during a few games while he was in college (he shot 4-7 from three-point range at Virginia Tech).

George Moir, Virginia Tech’s coach during Curry’s career, recently told ACC.com’s Jim Sumner, “If he was open, he was in range. It’s scary to think of how many points he would have scored under today’s rules.”

Neither Curry is a high flyer or an extremely flashy player but both are deceptively athletic and have exceptionally quick releases on their shots. Dell may have had the best step back three-point shot in the NBA other than Larry Bird and Stephen has a similar move in his repertoire; when you have great shooting range and balance, the step back is a deadly weapon. The defender has to guard a good shooter very tightly, so the slightest jab step gets him off balance and sets up the step back move; if the defender overreacts to the step back, then it is easy to drive past him and go all the way to the hoop, shoot a short jumper or pass to an open teammate.

Stephen Curry and his Davidson Wildcats proved to be giant killers this year, a role that is familiar to his father; Dell had 28 points on 10-19 field goal shooting when his Hokies upset 20-0, No. 1 ranked Memphis State 76-72 on February 1, 1986. One difference between Dell and Stephen is that Dell never really had a breakout performance in the NCAA Tournament, where his Hokies lost in the first round in 1985 and 1986.

In high school, Dell Curry was a multi-sport star who led his team to state championships in both basketball and baseball. The Baltimore Orioles selected him as a pitcher in the 14th round of the 1985 draft but Curry decided to stick with basketball. That proved to be a wise decision, because as a senior he was the MVP of the Maui Invitational, the Metro Conference Player of the Year and an AP 2nd Team All-America selection. The Utah Jazz chose him with the 15th overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft.

Darrell Griffith and Bobby Hansen received virtually all of the minutes at shooting guard during Curry’s rookie season, so he only averaged 4.9 ppg. Shortly before the 1987-88 season began, the Jazz traded Curry to the Cleveland Cavaliers with Kent Benson and future considerations in exchange for Darryl Dawkins, Mel Turpin and future considerations. Curry’s numbers doubled across the board and he began a streak of 10 straight seasons of averaging at least 10 ppg. He finally found a steady NBA home in Charlotte after the Hornets selected him in the 1988 Expansion Draft. Injuries limited him to 48 games but he still averaged 11.9 ppg, good enough to rank fourth on the team.

Curry really began to make his mark in 1989-90, averaging 16.0 ppg. The Hornets posted a dismal 19-63 record but they gradually added more talent and were able to increase their win totals in each of the next three seasons, culminating in a 44-38 record in 1992-93, good enough to earn the franchise its first playoff berth.

Larry Johnson (22.1 ppg) and Alonzo Mourning (21.0 ppg) were the cornerstones of the team, while Curry ranked fourth on the team with a 15.3 ppg average, including a then career-high 33 points in one game. He shot .401 from three point range and .866 on his free throws; incredibly, he missed ranking in the top ten in the NBA by .001 percentage points in each category! The Hornets beat the Boston Celtics 3-1 in the first round but were destroyed 4-1 by the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Curry ranked fourth on the team in scoring during the playoffs (11.0 ppg).

In 1993-94, Curry enjoyed his finest NBA season, averaging a career-high 16.3 ppg and winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. Curry ranked ninth in the league in three-point shooting (.402) and he tied for sixth place in the Three Point Shootout during the All-Star Weekend. Mourning and Johnson missed a total of 53 games due to injuries and the Hornets finished with a 41-41 record, one win short of qualifying for the playoffs.

Mourning and Johnson returned to health in 1994-95 and the Hornets went 50-32 but their playoff run was cut short in the first round by the 47-35 Chicago Bulls, a team that received a tremendous late season boost when Michael Jordan came out of retirement. Curry averaged 13.6 ppg that season, again ranking ninth in the NBA in three point shooting (.427).

The Hornets traded away Mourning to the Heat prior to the 1995-96 season in a multi-player deal done primarily to acquire Glen Rice. Rice made the All-Star team for the first time, but the Hornets slipped back to 41-41 and did not qualify for the playoffs. Curry averaged 14.5 ppg, made a career-high 164 three-point field goals and shot .404 from three-point range.

In 1996-97 the Hornets enjoyed the best season in franchise history (until 2007-08), posting a 54-28 record but that was only good enough for third place in a strong Central Division that featured the Bulls (69-13) and the Atlanta Hawks (56-26). Curry played a big role in that success, ranking third on the team in scoring (14.8 ppg), including a career-high 38 points in a 109-98 season opening win over Toronto on November 2, 1996. Curry ranked seventh in the league in three point shooting (.426). The East had six 50 win teams that season, so the Hornets did not even have home court advantage in the first round and they were swept 3-0 by the 57-25 New York Knicks. Curry’s minutes were cut in half during the playoffs and his production likewise dropped.

Injuries limited Curry to just 9.4 ppg in 52 games in 1997-98 but he still ranked ninth in the NBA in three-point shooting (.421). The Hornets had another fine season (51-31) and they beat the Hawks 3-1 in the first round before losing 4-1 to the powerful Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Milwaukee signed Curry as a free agent prior to the lockout-shortened 1999 season and Curry averaged 10.1 ppg for the Bucks while appearing in 42 of 50 games. Curry led the league in three-point shooting (.476) as the Bucks made it to the playoffs only to get swept 3-0 by the Indiana Pacers in the first round.

Curry went to Toronto as a free agent in August 1999 and he spent the final three seasons of his career as a Raptor. Curry ranked 10th in the NBA in three-point shooting in 2001 (.428). He retired after the 2002 season and for most of the time since then he has worked in various capacities in the front office of the Charlotte Bobcats.

Although Curry ranks 22nd all-time in three-pointers made (1245) and is tied for 24th all-time in three-point field goal percentage (.402), when I spoke with him a couple years after he retired he told me that he thought that the three-point shot has not been entirely good for the game.

“It’s taken away from the mid-range jump shot,” Curry explained. “The players here in the league, at the highest level, either shoot the three-point shot or try to get to the rim and we’ve kind of lost the mid-range game, which I think is a very exciting game that fans like.”

During Curry’s rookie season, NBA teams averaged 109.9 ppg but by the end of his career scoring had plummeted well below 100 ppg (it has bounced back to around 100 ppg this season).

"I think that you have to give a lot of credit to the defenses,” Curry says. “A lot of emphasis is placed on defense, from scouting to knowing guys’ tendencies. It has become much more difficult to play offense. Then, like I said, guys are trying to get to the rim a lot more and the fundamentals of shooting are not there like they were in the old days. I don't know if there are a lot of pure shooters in the league, like there were when I was in the league. You used to be able to go down the line and list a lot of pure shooters. In today's game I don't know if you have that pure shooter. You have guys who can score the ball, but it takes them a lot of shots for them to do that.”

Curry also agrees with those who assert that the overall level of defensive play now is much higher than it was two decades ago.

“No question because of scouting, because of team defensive concepts, coaching,” Curry says. “Obviously, you have coaches who all they do is concentrate on defensive tactics that best suit their team and their personnel. When you put that much emphasis and that much strategy into it, defenses are usually way above the offenses.”

David Friedman’s work has appeared in Hoop, Basketball Digest, Sports Collectors Digest and Tar Heel Monthly. He wrote the chapter on the NBA in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan's Game and Beyond (Haworth Press, 2005). Check out his basketball blog at 20secondtimeout.blogspot.com

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