Curry at home in Golden State
Stephen Curry grew up around the NBA with his father, Dell Curry, in Charlotte
The rookie guard has since become a foundation piece for the Warriors
While he's entered the Rookie of the Year debate, he's just shy of leading the race
This is not the Charlotte Coliseum, where a precocious child treats the Charlotte Hornets' locker room like his own private day care. Nor is this the Hornets' practice facility across the state line in South Carolina, where this same child runs down rebounds for his father, who works on the quick release of his spot-on shot.
No, this is Oracle Arena, 15 years later and 2,800 miles away. And that same child has blossomed into Warriors rookie Stephen Curry.
But it feels like home.
It was an amazing thing for Curry when he stepped onto the Oracle Arena floor for his first NBA game. It was amazing because it was not at all transformational. It was, obviously, a realization of his dreams. But more than that, he knew and felt like he belonged.
"Everything felt the same all the way up to the second quarter, where I checked into the game for the first time," Curry said. "It felt like a normal day for me. I wasn't star-struck."
This is what happens when you follow your father to work every day and have an NBA pedigree without even realizing it. Stephen's father is Dell Curry, who played for the Charlotte Hornets for 10 of his 16 seasons in the NBA.
In an effort to reconnect with his children when he came off the road, Dell would bring Stephen and his brother, Seth -- who will be eligible to play at Duke next season after transferring from Liberty last year -- to Hornets practices, shootarounds and games, where the brothers would get the chance to shoot on the Coliseum floor.
"Those boys were always with me," said Dell Curry, now a radio analyst for the Bobcats. "When I was home, they knew my schedule better than I did. And it may seem like a little thing, but to have an opportunity to be on an NBA floor and shoot around, with people in the stands, as a youngster, that is huge. If you can do that as a youngster, and not be intimidated by fans, that helps."
It is for that reason that Curry has looked unflappable this season. Which is convenient because things in Golden State went sideways before the season began.
Curry, 22, was the seventh pick in the 2009 draft, the fifth guard selected after James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn. After a summer in which Stephen Jackson told anybody who would listen that he wanted to be traded, Curry was greeted by teammate Monta Ellis telling the media that he didn't think he and Curry could successfully play together in the backcourt.
"Can't. We just can't," Ellis said at the time. "[Management] says we can. But we just can't. I just want to win. Not going to win that way."
There were several factors at play. Ellis was best friends with Jackson and clearly was affected by Jackson's rift with Golden State management, which included a fine for making public his trade demands.
Beyond that, Ellis had his own ongoing issues with management because of his moped accident, which made the Warriors consider voiding his contract.
Additionally, Ellis, one of the league's leading scorers who is most effective with the ball in his hands, felt threatened that, at a time that he was supposed to be a foundation for an organization that more than anything needed size, the Warriors drafted a point guard and focused its marketing campaign on him.
Quite the introduction for Curry.
"I was in shock," Curry said. "I was walking out of the facility after media day and somebody mentioned that he said that. But I didn't pay it much mind because I didn't hear it first-hand. I knew once we started playing, it would be fine. My goal wasn't to impress him. It was to get coach on my side. As a result of that, Monta understood what I was about. We smashed that in the second week of training camp."
With that attitude, Curry has effectively melded his game with Ellis', and in some respects surpassed Ellis on the court. Curry struggled early in the season, trying to become comfortable. But since early December, when he had a 22-point night against Oklahoma City, Curry has seemed to understand his role.
There has been a great deal of talk about Sacramento's Evans earning Rookie of the Year honors, in large part because he can become one of only four rookies -- Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James are the others -- to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. Curry, however, recently became only the third rookie in league history to have more than one 30-point, 12-assist game as a rookie, joining Robertson and Jordan.
The whole Rookie of the Year argument is an interesting, fluid dynamic. Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings had his 55-point game in November and emerged as the early front-runner. But opposing defenses quickly focused on shutting down Jennings, thereby helping Evans become the favorite for the award.
But Curry has quietly been sneaking up on both Evans and Jennings, stringing together two consecutive months of extraordinarily solid play. In February, he averaged 21.5 points and 7.3 assists, including a triple-double against the Clippers. Curry is averaging 15.6 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds for the season, and leads all rookies in three-point shooting (40.9 percent), free-throw shooting (87.7 percent) and steals (1.83). He is second or third is most other categories.
He probably falls just shy in the argument, however. His stats are not as good as Evans' and the Warriors' record (17-43) is even worse than Sacramento's (21-40). And while he is producing better lately than Jennings, the Bucks are contending for the playoffs, which benefits Jennings' argument.
All of which is fine with Curry. It's not that he does not want to win the award. It's that he does not have an unhealthy sense of entitlement.
"In the NBA, I could give my kids anything I wanted to," Dell Curry said. "But we consciously said we were not going to overdo it. We were going to make them appreciate what they had and treat people right."
When opposing coaches are asked about Curry's play, invariably they discuss him in terms other than basketball first. "He is just a good kid," Denver assistant Adrian Dantley said when he stood in for George Karl for a game recently. "I got the chance to spend some time with Steph in Dallas when I was coaching the rookies in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge [at All-Star weekend], and more than anything, he is just a very nice person."
Even Warriors coach Don Nelson, whose run-ins with rookies is well-documented (see Chris Webber) and whose breaking-down of young players is legendary, has softened. When the season started, Nelson would rarely compliment Curry, saying he needed to work on various aspects of his game. But recently, even the 69-year-old Nelson has been unable to criticize.
"He's the perfect rookie," Nelson said last week.
Nelson's name cannot be mentioned without the long-term future of the Warriors organization being discussed. In this particular case, what that means for Curry is imprecise. Clearly, the franchise loves him and wants to build around him. But how they go about that remains a mystery.
In the long term, Curry and Ellis probably cannot play together. Ellis likes to have the ball in his hands to put up points. He is not a spot shooter like Ray Allen; he needs to create. Curry, while known as a scorer at Davidson, is a true point guard who possesses some of the best court vision in the game. One play earlier this season illustrates that remarkably well.
Curry was among a group of players scrambling for a loose ball at the elbow on Golden State's end of the floor. He came up with the ball, and in one motion, with his head still down, he flicked a behind-the-back pass to a teammate under the basket on the opposite block.
"He didn't play point guard his first two years at Davidson," Dell Curry said, "and I think that helped him figure out what his teammates needed from a point guard."
Memphis offered the Warriors O.J. Mayo in exchange for Ellis at the trade deadline and the Bulls offered Kirk Hinrich. Golden State turned down both deals, but the Warriors probably should have taken either because Ellis is most likely correct: If the Warriors are going to win, it is not going to be with him and Curry in the backcourt together.
That, however, is concern for the future. For now, Curry is focused on this weekend, when he returns to Charlotte to play the Bobcats. He is a hero there, the player who took Davidson to the NCAA tournament while becoming the school's all-time leading scorer in just three seasons. He said he will spend Saturday afternoon attending Davidson's game in the Southern Conference tournament, which it needs to win to return to the NCAA tournament. Then, 100 friends, family members and former teammates will go to Time Warner Cable Coliseum to watch Curry compete against the team for which his father works.
"I can't wait. I circled that date when I got the calendar for the year," Curry said. "It's going to be a full day of basketball. It is going to be a lot of fun. I haven't been home since the first day of training camp."
Perhaps physically. But he's always been home in Golden State.
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