Saturday, July 11, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
Don Nelson has coached in 2,482 NBA games dating back to 1976, and over that period of time, it was never a secret that he favored veteran players to rookies and other youngsters.
Never one to go out of his way to pad a young ballplayer's ego or hand him too much praise during his development, what he had to say on Friday from the COX Pavilion stands while watching rookie Stephen Curry's pro debut in the NBA summer league came a bit out of left field.
"I like everything about him," said Nelson, kicking back in a T-shirt and baseball cap. "There isn't anything I don't like about him. He's gonna be a very fine player, I think.
"He'll always be a good offensive player. When that opportunity presents itself, he'll do fine. It's just until he feels comfortable playing the game and being out there early as a young rookie. We can ride with the mistakes that he'll make and he'll become a well-developed player."
While it may be odd to hear Nelson sound so liberal regarding the seventh overall pick in last month's NBA draft, it's pretty widely known that Curry isn't your ordinary rookie.
The 6-foot-3 scoring machine out of tiny Davidson College — who in three years there averaged 25.3 points per game and had the Wildcats within one possession of the 2008 Final Four — has already mastered the toughest part of learning to play in the NBA.
That's the mental aspect of it.
Curry carries himself like a pro in every way possible.
Whether he was nervous for his pro debut on Friday or not, you could never guess by looking at him. His body language was smooth and professional, even as he struggled to score 16 points on just 4-of-14 shooting and picked up 4 of his 7 personal fouls in just over 8 minutes.
He even kept his cool after having to stick a cotton swab up his nose to stop some bleeding early in the game.
"My first possession in the league, a bloody nose," he said jokingly.
Following the Warriors' 73-69 loss to the Houston Rockets, during which Golden State failed on several occasions to close out their opponents when holding a slim lead late in the second half, he was still unflappable.
The baby-faced assassin handled his media responsibilities, glad-handed some onlookers, packed his things and went back to his hotel.
This kind of demeanor comes natural at such a young age when you spent much of your childhood hanging around NBA locker rooms.
Stephen is the oldest son of Del Curry, who played 16 seasons in the league from 1986 to 2002.
He obviously was paying attention every step of the way.
"He's so far ahead mentally that these little things here aren't gonna bother him," said Golden State assistant Keith Smart. "Even when he missed some shots that he normally would make, he didn't drop his head and stop playing. He's so far ahead of the game, now he's waiting for the rest of his game to catch up with him as an NBA player."
Smart, who is coaching the Warriors summer league squad, said he can already notice the impact that simply hanging around NBA locker rooms has had on his two young sons, who are 10 and 12 years old.
While Curry's game is all there mentally, he showed on Friday where he still needs to improve in terms of execution.
His first pro bucket was one of his patented feathery 3-pointers from atop the key just over 90 seconds into the game.
But after that, he was offensively silent for the rest of the half. Curry, who played the point position predominately over the last year at Davidson, is now transitioning into becoming a guy who can create his own shots away from the ball.
His finest stretch of the afternoon came early in the third quarter as Golden State mounted a comeback from a halftime deficit. After hitting a two from straight-on coming off a ball screen set by Anthony Randolph, he bothered a shot by Houston guard James White on the other end.
Then, off the rebound, he pulled up and swished a three on the right wing in transition.
It all took about 29 seconds, and he did it in spite of a first half during which the Rockets tried to get in his head constantly, whether it was by grabbing his jersey, holding his arm or even slapping him on the head.
"I'm sure it's going to be a point of emphasis for all guys down the road, but I've had that kind of attention for the last year in college," Curry said. "I'll be fine to handle it, it's just getting comfortable on the floor and knowing where to be."
Curry may have the most ground to gain on the defensive end, where he'll be at a distinct size disadvantage against just about everyone he covers as a rookie — and probably beyond.
Still, it doesn't cause him concern. There's an air of confidence that comes with acting like a pro, and it's something Curry got down pat a long time ago.
"I've been around the NBA, so I know the techniques and the systems and what I have to guard," Curry said. "Now it's just getting out there and doing it. I think with this experience in the summer league and going through those things early, figuring out how to defend and where I need to be, and how quickly the ball moves. It's a little different, but I think I'll be able to get it."
He'll have quite the support system in doing so, as he's now part of a young nucleus in Golden State which includes a versatile 7-foot second-year forward in Randolph along with 23-year-old budding stars in point guard Monta Ellis and power forward Andris Biedrins.
More important is that all three of them know the demands of growing as an NBA player under Don Nelson's strict guidelines.
Randolph is the perfect example of how a player can grow under Nelson.
A year ago, the one-and-done from LSU showed up to the Vegas summer league with hardly any muscle on a wiry 6-foot-10 frame. He played timid and showed nothing more than flashes of his potential.
On Friday, he scored 20 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and did everything with ease and confidence.
He pulled Curry aside at the half to remind him to simply stay confident and stick with what works.
"I think I can just help him with the ups and downs I went through in the season," he said. "I told him you've got to just shoot the ball, that's what we drafted you for. Just do you.
"It's (a perfect fit), because he spaces the floor out for us."
Curry will pick up more pieces as he goes along. Heck, he'll probably get more before he leaves Las Vegas.
The Warriors play four more times in the summer league, with their next contest at 5 p.m. Saturday against Sacramento.
He'll pick up some more when he goes through his initial training camp. And he'll certainly pick up even more when he goes against the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for the first time.
But don't expect him to give off the impression that it's a whole new experience.
"Growing up in the NBA, he's not in awe of the people, the media and other players," Smart said. "That's gonna help him even when we get to the regular season and the real pros come to training camp. That's not gonna faze him at all."