OAKLAND -- Warriors point guard Stephen Curry insists that his confident court demeanor should not be mistaken for swagger.
However you want to define his new aura -- the celebrations, the clapping on defense, the speeches in the huddles -- Golden State will gladly take it from its fourth-year player. Curry's emotional presence has sparked his own game, and the play of his teammates.
"I love his energy, his enthusiasm, his passion," coach Mark Jackson said. "It takes us to another level, because guys are looking for that."
Curry, 24, says his vocal demeanor is no coincidence. Management made it clear that he was the unquestioned leader in the Warriors' post-Monta Ellis world, a fact the team backed up by signing him to a four-year, $44 million extension.
The team's 8-6 start, highlighted by a grittiness previous Warriors teams have not displayed, has provided the perfect backdrop for Curry's growth.
"I don't think you can be successful in sports or pretty much anything if you're not confident in what you're doing," Curry said. "I've always been this way. But when you're losing every game, it's frustrating. When you're competitive, it gives it meaning. We're winning and playing well, and we're competitive in each game. There are more moments when it means something."
Step one for Curry was to resist all bad body language. He'd been known to sulk on the court, especially after turnovers or when he got into foul trouble. But this season, as the newly anointed face of the franchise, Curry sought to flip the script.
He assumed the task of keeping the team's spirits up, making sure he displayed positive energy even when he was in a personal slump (a difficult task with his shooting woes to start the season).
Then, in a win at Dallas on Nov. 19, he tweaked the right ankle that has caused him two seasons of pain and frustration. Previous ankle sprains prompted displays of frustration -- depressed expressions, thrown mouth guards, punched chairs.
This time, he was determined to react differently.
He was able to return to the floor after the ankle sprain, and did so with a certain bounce to his step, a smile on his face, a presence that shined on the court. He clapped to encourage his teammates on defense. And when he set up David Lee's game-winning layup in overtime, he screamed as he headed to the bench.
"I think that something on the inside told him he had to muster it," Jackson said. "He was rah-rah, high-fiving, demanding the basketball."
That Dallas game seems to have stuck with Curry. Two nights later in a win over visiting Brooklyn, he drilled a 3-pointer and got the foul, flashing four fingers to celebrate his four-point play even before he attempted the free throw.
In Friday's loss to Denver, he regressed a bit. Coaches pointed out his uninspiring body language as the Nuggets went on a big run. But by Saturday against Minnesota, he was back at it, prepping his team for a fourth-quarter surge with a pep talk and egging on the crowd after he nailed a big 3-pointer.
"My body language has to be positive at all times," Curry said. "You've got to have somebody that's always up and positive when things are looking bad. I try to make a conscious effort to do that. Make sure everybody knows it's all right, we'll get it on the next one. So nobody's sulking."
Jackson challenged him early to take over the team, be the leader. A standout point guard in his own right, Jackson has put the ball in Curry's hands when it matters most.
Curry's moxie is especially evident down the stretch of close games. He said his confidence is at an all-time high not just because of his own ability but because of the players surrounding him and the energy of the team.
You can see the belief in his strut, in his facial expression. Even mistakes don't seem to bother him as much anymore.
"The energy we've kind of established over the course of 12 games is entirely different than what we've had in the past," point guard Jarrett Jack said. "So it may be you're seeing him in a way you haven't seen him before. But we're playing the type of ball you haven't seen: grind-it-out wins. It's gone unsaid. Nobody has talked to him. But of course we see it."
Curry said, by his estimation, he's been pretty subdued. His emphasis is on the little things. Encouraging his teammates. Talking on defense. Bringing energy. And, yes, even flashing three fingers after he drains a 3-pointer.
"There is a difference between confidence and trying to let everybody know that you're good," Curry said. "But you have to have some kind of ... I hate that word, but ... 'swag.' "