CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Stephen Curry has been thinking a lot lately about not having to think so much.
If that sounds like an oxymoron, then hear him out, because it sounds like he's on to something in evolving into an elite NBA point guard.
Curry, a former Davidson star, finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting, playing a position he's still working to totally understand. He played the point his last season at Davidson and has a gift for passing, but in college he was mostly a shooter.
Now he needs to be mostly a decision maker. And those decisions must be instantaneous.
So when you ask him what he's addressing this off-season as a Golden State Warrior, it's not a scoop shot or a cross-over dribble or a spin move.
It's learning to be so intuitive he doesn't have to ponder or constantly use set plays as a crutch. It's learning to play a ridiculously fast game in real time.
"In-game decision making," Curry said Wednesday by telephone when asked what he must upgrade. "Just going to what needs to be done in any situation without looking over to the bench for a play to be called."
You mention the term "institutional memory" and Curry says that's what he's striving for -- it's what his close friend, former Wake Forest star Chris Paul, has: A gift for smart choices so instinctive it's basketball as art, more than science.
If all this sounds too Zen-like, it's totally practical, if not pragmatic. Ask Phil Ford, who was NBA rookie of the year in 1979, playing for the then-Kansas City Kings.
"If you don't have that, it can take two or three years," said Ford, now a Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach. "It's hard to simulate that in practice every day. It's not the same thing as game time.
"The game of basketball is so fast, that if you have to really think about it, have to process it," it's too late, Ford said.
Or as Curry described: "If you're sitting on your dribble, you're lost."
Curry was anything but lost by the end of his rookie season. He made a dramatic charge on Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans for that rookie award in March and April. He finished averaging nearly 17 points and six assists. More remarkably, he shot 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range.
Now consider the degree of difficulty: On the eve of training camp, the Warriors' established star, Monta Ellis, proclaimed that a Curry-Ellis backcourt would never work. He was dumping on team management, not Curry, but that didn't reduce the sting.
Then the injuries became almost laughable in their frequency. At one point the Warriors were so shorthanded that Curry kept playing in a game against Milwaukee after he'd technically fouled out. Under an obscure NBA rule, he was allowed to continue, with a penalty assessed to the Warriors if he committed any additional fouls.
"Very weird. I didn't even know the rule existed," Curry recalled. "I was the only point guard on the roster, so they'd warned me I might have to play 48 minutes. By the end of the third quarter I had five fouls.
"So then I get the sixth, and I look over at the bench, and there was nobody there!"
All that--the Ellis remark, the injuries, the 56 losses--sounds miserable, except it was also instructive. Shrill as Ellis' comments were, they taught Curry about NBA agendas in a way his dad, Bobcats color analyst Dell, never could have expressed.
And now, as the one guy on the Warriors' roster who might be untouchable trade-wise, he lobbies for Golden State not to trade Ellis. What Ellis couldn't imagine--two small guards paired for their rare offensive skills--Curry desires.
The Warriors are an oddity in the NBA: A team with one playoff appearance in the past 16 seasons that keeps drawing well to an antiquated arena. The Bay Area is vested in the Warriors' success, probably far more than Charlotte is in the Bobcats, and Curry represents hope.
"They really caught on to what he could be the second half of the season," said Tim Roye, the Warriors' radio play-by-play announcer the past 15 years. "It was Steph, a couple of D-Leaguers and (Ronny) Turiaf on one leg, and he was still doing all that.
"His sincerity so rings true out here. With some guys, you don't feel what they're saying in interviews is who they really are. With Steph, it's so obvious he's that same person all the time."
That gives Curry a certain gravitas in the organization and they've told him they believe in the young core.
"They say they're going to stick with the young players on the roster," Curry described Wednesday. "They say they're looking for that one (additional) piece--a small forward or a big man who could make an impact."
So early last week, a reporter tells Curry about the rumored sign-and-trade for Knicks big man David Lee (it came to fruition late Thursday). Curry all but shouts with excitement, contemplating the pick-and-roll possibilities.
"I've seen what he can do!" Curry replied. "That would be great."
Curry is in Las Vegas the rest of the month, first to watch the Warriors' summer-league team and then to audition for Team USA, with about 30 others, in preparation for the World Championships in Turkey (along with Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace).
On one level, it's striking -- Davidson produces bankers and lawyers, not Dream-Teamers. But this isn't all that different from Curry making the 19-and-under national team, when few saw that coming.
"That was the highest stage possible back then," Curry recalled. "We traveled to Serbia. We had fun. It felt natural."
Natural, like knowing without thinking or having to be bailed out by a scripted play.