this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; Monty Williams' fourth season at the helm of the New Orleans Pelicans is underway, and if he's not careful, it will end up being his last. It's a little (read: way) early in the season to write off the 42-year-old ...
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|11-12-2013, 10:31 PM||#1|
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Is 2013-14 Monty Williams' Last Year to Impress with New Orleans Pelicans?
Monty Williams' fourth season at the helm of the New Orleans Pelicans is underway, and if he's not careful, it will end up being his last.
It's a little (read: way) early in the season to write off the 42-year-old Williams and his upstart Pelicans, but the lax atmosphere that has surrounded the team in recent years has been replaced with the expectation of winning.
Rightfully so, considering the drastic changes made in New Orleans this past summer. The first and most important domino to fall was the draft-night trade that exchanged the rights to Nerlens Noel and a Top Five protected pick in next year's NBA Draft for Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday, fresh off of his first All-Star appearance. It was a microcosm of the offseason for the Pelicans—immediate returns versus future dividends.
The moves made following the trade were perhaps bigger indicators of the win-now mentality possessed by ownership general manager Dell Demps. Rather than go into the season with plenty of open minutes for recent draftee Austin Rivers, the Pelicans made another big move by orchestrating a sign-and-trade deal for Tyreke Evans.
Considering the age of franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis, it seemed odd that New Orleans was suddenly all in on this season. But this is the mandate that Monty Williams is working with, and it puts both his decision-making and previous accolades under the microscope.
Williams has gained a reputation as something of an up-and-comer around the league, reasserted by his inclusion on the USA Basketball staff going forward. But Williams' teams have struggled in several key areas, which raise questions about whether he should be in charge past this season.
During his first three seasons with the Pelicans, Williams-coached teams have averaged the 21st best ORTG and 18th best DRTG in the NBA. Nothing about those numbers screams coaching genius; in fact, they lean more toward painfully average.
Williams can be forgiven for those numbers, however, as New Orleans has undergone a serious rebuild during the past two seasons. It would be disingenuous to suggest that the loss of players such as Chris Paul and David West didn't leave gaping holes on the roster.
But, Williams' year with the league's preeminent point guard wasn't exactly a rousing success, either. In fact, Paul's lone year working with Monty Williams was one of only two years since 2007 that a Paul-led team finished outside of the top half of the league in ORTG. The other season? 2009-10, when CP3 played in just 45 games before tearing his left meniscus.
More importantly, the current Pelicans are struggling to score points out of a play that should be a staple of their offense: the pick-and-roll. The three-headed monster of Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon should be able to run P&R sets with Davis and achieve devastating results, but the progress just isn't there yet.
Per My Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Pelicans are averaging just .74 points per possession out of these looks through seven games, good for 23rd league-wide. That's disheartening considering that pick-and-roll sets are responsible for over 26 percent of their offense.
This is a roster that's still gelling, and these woes might be alleviated when three-point specialist Ryan Anderson returns, but for now, the Pelicans are a decidedly below-average team on offense, a trend that (if continued) points at least somewhat at the coach.
After suggesting that the trio of Evans, Anderson and Jason Smith may come off the bench together during the offseason, Williams has struggled to find successful units to supplement his starting lineup.
This is despite the fact that Anthony Morrow has given the second unit a huge lift, shooting 59.1 percent from three through seven contests, averaging an almost unthinkable 1.43 points per shot. That's good enough for Morrow to find himself slightly ahead of James Harden and Paul George, two of the league's elite players, albeit in a much smaller sample.
Outside of Morrow, the Pelicans bench has been a hot mess, including Evans, who many thought would imitate Manu Ginobili for the Pelicans.
Unfortunately, Evans looks closer to the broken-down, injury-prone Manu than the dynamic talent of the past. He has been impossibly inefficient—32.4 percent from the field with a 5.9 PER through seven games—due in large part to the heavy burden he carries for the bench unit.
After much speculation about how Williams would use his highly touted guards, it seems as though we've gotten our answer: not enough. Evans, Holiday and Gordon have played just 41 minutes together according to the NBA stats database, just 12 percent of the team's total minutes through their first seven games.
Make no mistake, Evans was brought in to be a key contributor for this team. Although his efficiency will normalize naturally, Williams needs to do a better job of putting him in places to succeed. Giving him minutes with the team's top talent would do just that.
In addition to giving higher profile minutes to Evans, Williams would be wise not to overrate the early showing from Brian Roberts. Roberts has given the Pelicans nice jolts in spurts, but his limitations were on full display when he was on the court during a crucial stretch against Phoenix on Nov. 10. He's a nice scorer on second units, but crunch-time minutes should be off the table.
Williams' fascination with Greg Stiemsma has tailed off since the preseason, but he's done little to prove his minutes off the bench should be etched in stone. Jeff Withey isn't a game-changing player, but at the very least, it's worth seeing what the kid has in the hopes of finding a rotation cog.
The Pelicans' fortunes rest on the shoulders of their five big pieces—Davis, Holiday, Gordon, Anderson and Evans—and getting them as much playing time as possible should be the goal. Wasting minutes on players who don't have a definable NBA skill, like Morrow's shooting, is impeding the progress of the team.
Several troubling areas do not make or break a career. It's easy to accentuate the problems of a team or a coach and slightly harder to pinpoint areas of success when a team is below .500.
The encouraging aspect of Williams' current situation is that he is growing along with his team. Even with three years under his belt, Williams is one of the youngest coaches in the league, which suits his youthful roster perfectly.
There are nights, though, where it's fair to wonder how Williams ever came to be highly regarded. Barring injury, there's no scenario in which Tyreke Evans should only be playing seven minutes, but that's exactly what transpired on Nov. 10 in Phoenix.
Williams also needs to make clear to his team that the ball should be in Anthony Davis' hands. Davis has been his best player by far, and while it's on him to demand the ball, a good coach takes that responsibility out of a 20-year-old's hands.
Looming large for Williams are several recently fired coaches who are chomping at the bit to get back into the business. Lionel Hollins and George Karl were unceremoniously canned by Memphis and Denver, respectively, and it's hard to believe they'd turn down an opportunity to coach a star on the rise in Davis and a reigning All-Star in Holiday, if given the opportunity.
Whether Williams deserves more than a year to establish his worth is probably a moot point. If he doesn't get his team moving in a winning direction, he'll be updating his resume in April.
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