Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Dec. 29): Portland's Terry Stotts fires back at George Karl

NBA.com Staff

Stotts fires back at Karl over Lillard criticism | Curry calls for more pick-and-rolls | Butler saves Bulls | Jokic blossoming in Denver | Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ struggles

No. 1: Stotts fires back at Karl over Lillard criticism — George Karl isn’t just expressing his thoughts on his former players through his new book. He’s also sharing his opinion about other players in interviews as he tries to promote that book. In one such interview, Karl inferred that the Portland Trail Blazers are struggling because Damian Lillard “is getting too much attention.” And as you might imagine, Lillard’s coach, who happens to be a protege of Karl, had a response. Chris Haynes of ESPN has the words of Terry Stotts:

Stotts, who played for Karl during his Continental Basketball Association days in Great Falls, Montana, and previously credited Karl with providing him a start on the NBA coaching ladder, was quick to come to his star player’s defense.

“I owe a lot to George. I got my start in coaching with George. I wouldn’t be here if not for him,” Stotts said before Wednesday night’s game against Karl’s former team, the Sacramento Kings. “But when it comes to my team and my players, he needs to stay in his own lane.

“He doesn’t know Damian Lillard. He doesn’t know how coachable he is. He doesn’t know what a great teammate he is. He doesn’t know how much Damian cares about winning and how important he is to this franchise. I thought his comments, however well intended they may have been — which I can’t understand — I can’t tolerate.”

Stotts spent more than a decade at Karl’s side before becoming a head coach, including two years in the CBA with Karl and as an assistant under Karl for six years in Seattle with the SuperSonics and four with the Milwaukee Bucks.

“He’s a successful coach,” Stotts said of Karl. “That being said, if he wants to diminish his chances for the Hall of Fame, if he wants to undermine his chances of being a head coach again in this league, if he wants to settle old scores with GMs or players or whoever else, that’s his prerogative.”

Stotts said he has no plans to read Karl’s book or reach out to him.

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No. 2: Curry calls for more pick-and-rolls — Last season, Stephen Curry made 89 more pull-up 3-pointers than any other player. This season, Curry is tied for sixth in pull-up 3s, in part because he hasn’t shot them as well, but mostly because he’s taking less than half as many (1.3 vs. 2.8 per game). In the wake of Sunday’s loss in Cleveland (in which he shot 0-for-3 on pull-up 3s), Curry called for more pick-and-rolls that would get him those shots or spur more ball movement, as ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes:

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry suggested a different offensive approach for his team on Wednesday, three days after a 109-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in which Curry took only 11 shots.

“I definitely want to be in more pick-and-roll situations,” he said at Golden State’s practice facility when asked whether the ball is in his hand enough this season. “Whether I’m getting shots or whether we’re manufacturing ball movement, that’s a strength of ours, regardless of how teams play us.”

On what happened in the game Sunday, Curry said, “There were certain sets we were really good at, whether it’s drags, pick-and-rolls, whether it’s utilizing our post splits and things like that where we can get more space. Didn’t really go to those sets as much.”

Curry mentioned Golden State’s poor offensive showing at the end of the game, noting that they were in a great position to win.

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No. 3: Butler saves the Bulls — Dwyane Wade is the guy with the rings and the star power, but there’s no question that Jimmy Butler is the man in Chicago. Butler has seen a big jump in usage rate, but that hasn’t come with a decrease in efficiency. In fact, his true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent is the highest mark of his career. With Wade in the locker room and the Bulls in need of a win to get back to .500 on Wednesday, Butler came to the rescue. He scored 13 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter and capped off a comeback with the buzzer-beating game-winner. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson has the story:

“He was phenomenal, obviously,” coach Fred Hoiberg said of Butler. “He just put the team on his shoulders and willed us to the finish line. We needed every one of (those points).”

Butler almost single-handedly brought the Bulls back from what would have been an inexcusable defeat. The Nets, 1-15 on the road, have lost their last 11 away from home by an average of 15 points and have allowed 24 straight road opponents to score 100 or more points.

But on a night the Nets outscored the Bulls 39-9 from 3-point range, it took Butler’s monster effort, which also featured 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and 11-for-11 from the line.

“I said get the hell out of his way and let him go to work,” Hoiberg said of the final play. “That’s what happened.”

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No. 4: Jokic blossoming in Denver — In a game that featured two No. 1 picks from the last three drafts, the brightest young star on the floor was a second rounder. The Nuggets’ two-point win over the Minnesota Timberwolves was just the latest showcase for second-year big man Nikola Jokic, who has a unique skill set as Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post writes:

Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns. Gary Harris. Emmanuel Mudiay. Zach LaVine. Nikola Jokic. Those are the names of the futures of both franchises. And all performed well. But aside from the high-octane scoring we’ve come to expect out of Wiggins — which he delivered — it was Jokic that stole the night.

Again.

If this is repetitive it’s only because Jokic has been that consistent. Game after game he brings the most unique set of total skills of any center in the NBA. He scores in the post. He scores on the perimeter. He rebounds. He leads the fast break. He puts pretty much every pass on time and on target.

On Wednesday, those dimes piled up 11 high. It was a career high in assists, part of a near triple-double for Jokic of 16 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.

“It’s becoming a regular occasion for him to go out there and get double-figure assists,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

His game has taken an enormous jump from the start of the season to the level those around the franchise were certain he could reach. Not that this is the ceiling. But with him, the Nuggets play the brand of free-flowing basketball they’ve wanted to get to. If you’re looking for an identity, this is the one the Nuggets want to have.

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No. 5: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ struggles — Stan Van Gundy isn’t afraid to call out his players for poor performances. But after his Pistons lost by 25 points at home to Milwaukee on Wednesday, the coach wasn’t blaming anyone but himself. Detroit has lost six of its last seven games (with the only win coming over the LeBron-less Cavs) to fall into 11th place in the Eastern Conference, and Van Gundy is looking in the mirror as he tries to turn things around. Aaron McMann has the story on mlive.com:

It was the sixth loss in seven games for the Pistons, who fall a season-low four games below the .500 mark. Seven of their last eight losses have come by double digits.

“Our team has had too many of these,” Van Gundy said. “It’s on me. I’m responsible. I’ve got to figure out what needs to be done.

“Quite honestly, I’m embarrassed. Not by my players, by me. My performance. I’m not getting it done. I am not getting it done.”

It was the first time this season Van Gundy, in his third in Detroit, has uttered words of this magnitude. He practiced patience during the team’s first 21 games without Reggie Jackson, then pulled the trigger on a lineup change three games ago against Golden State.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent Donatas Motiejunas had a tryout with the Lakers … LeBron James and Stan Van Gundy both agree with Kevin Durant in regard to the league’s “last two minutes” reports … Dwyane Wade knows he has to keep his minutes down if he wants to be fresh come playoff time … The Kings are talkin’ playoffs … and Brandon Ingram would like to work out with Kobe Bryant.

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