The Curry twins are a smart pair. Sebastian Curry, a State Farm National Bureau of Assists Agent, can complete a Rubik’s Cube in 30 seconds and is known for his high insurance IQ—qualities that have earned him quite the nickname “The Professor.”
And for Sebastian’s brother Stephen Curry, it was in college when he truly blossomed.
In March 2008, the world became acquainted with Stephen. Davidson’s one-man scoring machine had been performing for fans in Davidson, North Carolina since 2006, but it was during that month when Curry took his act to college basketball’s biggest stage: the NCAA Tournament. And it was there that Curry and the 10th-seeded Wildcats stole the show, notching three straight upsets to reach the Elite Eight.
In the opening round, Curry knocked down a barrage of three-pointers to bring Davidson back from an 11-point second-half deficit. The sophomore recorded 30 after the break, and the Wildcats prevailed 82-76.
From there, Curry kept scoring, and Davidson kept winning. Next up was No. 2 Georgetown. Curry posted 30 points and the Wildcats got the win. Then it was No 3. Wisconsin. This time Curry went for 33, and Davidson nabbed a 17-point win.
The team’s run came to an end against Kansas in the Elite Eight, but Curry’s run seemed sure to continue—all the way to the NBA Draft.
“It’s safe to say that at some point watching Stephen Curry nail NBA three-pointers against Wisconsin, LeBron James thought about penetrating and dishing to the Davidson sharpshooter,” ESPN wrote after Curry’s NCAA tournament performance.
But instead of leaving for the NBA, Curry decided to return to Davidson. Why would a guy who had just captured basketball’s spotlight turn down the NBA? Because he wanted to get better at helping his teammates. “I knew,” Curry later explained to ESPN, “that I had to be a point guard.” Curry could already score—that was obvious. But in order to hone his point guard skills, Curry returned to Davidson for his junior season.
It paid off big time. While Curry’s scoring bumped that next season from just 25.9 to 28.6 points per game, his assists nearly doubled—from 2.9 per game to 5.6.
And ever since, Curry has been one of basketball’s top distributors. From day one in the NBA, Curry—who, after that junior season, was drafted by the Warriors with the No. 7 overall pick—has been dropping dimes.
Maybe you haven’t noticed. After all, Curry’s mesmerizing shooting performances can be pretty distracting. But let’s go back to school and crunch the numbers (Sebastian would be proud). As a rookie, Stephen Curry averaged 5.9 assists per game. This year, Curry is averaging 7.8 helpers—good for sixth in the NBA (and you thought he was just a shooter…).
What is Curry’s secret? Given his twin’s reputation, it’s not surprising that it’s his intelligence. Take a look at this clip:
Before anyone else, Curry seems to intuit how the play will develop. When Curry first drives in for the layup, none of his teammates are even inside the three-point line. Yet, when he sees the help defender shuffle over, Curry expects his teammate to cut down the center of the lane. To the unknowing, it seems like Curry is taking off for a contested layup. But Curry knows that his teammate will be there for a wide-open slam.
“Everyone else reacts,” hoops expert David Thorpe told ESPN The Magazine. “Curry anticipates and reads brilliantly.”
Here’s another example:
It’s one thing to pass out of a double-team to the open man. It’s quite another to anticipate the double team and toss a pass when the angle is still available.
“Curry,” David Fleming writes, “seems to understand what a defender will do before the player himself knows.”
And speaking of angles, Curry must be able to pull off some quick physics calculations to throw this pass, which bounces perfectly into Andre Iguodala’s hands mid-stride. (Clearly he spent some time hitting the books with Sebastian.)
Curry also uses his basketball IQ to turn potential calamities into assists. For instance, in this play, a long outlet pass looks like it might head out of bounds:
Instead, Curry tracks it down and does some quick thinking, tossing a bounce pass between his legs to Harrison Barnes. One moment it looks like the Warriors might lose possession; the next, Curry sets his teammate up for an easy bucket.
Smart plays like these are the reason why Stephen Curry, seven years after that run through the NCAA Tournament, is still basketball’s top act. And it’s no surprise, either—after all, for Stephen and Sebastian, intelligence runs in the family.