Lately, and with good reason, there has been plenty of negative talk in Hornet nation regarding Monty Williams. The gripes have usually centered around his questionable rotations and underwhelming strategies. For a team constructed to solely concentrate on the future, many of Monty's decisions have seemingly come in direct conflict with this agenda.
Undoubtedly, it was common knowledge this was going to be a trying season. Almost all of last year's veterans (Ariza, Jack and Okafor) were moved and replaced with a number of NBA rookies (Davis, Miller, Rivers and Roberts). Additionally, some largely unproven players (Aminu, Lopez and Vasquez) were thrust into prominent roles. Throw in the never ending Eric Gordon saga and it should have been apparent a disheartening season was on the horizon.
Consequently, is it fair to hold Monty thoroughly accountable for a 5-22 start marked with consistently poor basketball?
Last season, after watching the Bulls trample the Hornets 90-67, their 22nd loss among the season's first 26 games, I wrote a fanpost questioning Monty's viability. Admittedly, my emotions were running high and the need to lash out was very real. The offense was pure disaster. Finishing games on any positive note was non-existent. Wins were flat out impossible.
However, as attested by the numerous responses, not all hope was lost. The Hornets could still hang their hat on that Monty trademark defense and overall effort. We were a scrappy and united team that no one wanted to face. A 17-23 record to finish the 2011-12 campaign appeared to indicate that coaching indeed wasn't the issue. In fact, this talent-deprived team almost ended up winning too much as fans were worried it would significantly hurt our upcoming NBA draft position.
Advanced Statistics and Coaching
Before we attempt to breakdown the surrounding issues, should we even be concerned that Monty Williams is possibly being a detriment? How much of an effect do coaches really have on team performance? More importantly, can any advanced metrics give credence to the importance of good coaching? According to an article co-written by Dave Berri (Wages of Wins):
Even the most successful coaches by our metric—Jackson, Popovich, and Fitzsimmons—
were statistically discernable only from the very worst-rated coaches. We therefore find
little evidence that most coaches in the NBA are more than the "principal clerks" that
Adam Smith claimed managers were more than 200 years ago.
Oliver's research was based on using various methods of establishing an expected number of wins, things like comparing a team's field goal percentage to its opponents'. Oliver then compared these expectations with a coach's actual record.
Oliver admits his methods have their limits, and even if a coach is exceeding expectations, it's hard to know exactly why. "I don't want to say seat of the pants, but many of the coaching decisions in the NBA are made so very quickly," Oliver says. "I'm not even sure that they could break down exactly what they were thinking at any given point in the game."
Roland Beech of 82Games also attempted to quantify the effects of coaching in his Bad Coaching Index. Mainly, he wanted to discover whether Bill Simmons claims that Doc Rivers was an awful coach in 2006 had any merit. Although his findings were not very conclusive, Simmon's claim did appear to hold very little water. Two seasons down the road, Doc led the Celtics to a championship, and every season since, he's considered to be one of the leagues most highly respected coaches.
Monty's on Pace to Fall Well Short of Expectations
Since time is a factor, we'll forgo attempting to create our own bad coaching index and stick to Oliver's simpler method of evaluation. For the upcoming 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins predicted the Hornets would win 41.73 games. ESPN's collective opinion had us finishing 31-51. Basketball Prospectus gave us a 36-46 record.
Currently, we are on pace to win 15 games. That's less than any other year of this franchise. Even in the Hornet's inaugural season in 1988-89, they managed 20 wins. Granted, many of us probably believe we'll improve merely by default. Having Eric Gordon back will help plus it's not farfetched to expect the youth to grow enough to eke out a few additional wins.
However, is it possible to meet any of the preseason expectations? For instance, for us to finish with a 36-46 record, we need to finish the rest of the year on a tear. Specifically, a 31-24 record. I'm not a betting man, but if I had to make a wager, it wouldn't be on our horse. Strike ONE.
Where is Monty's Trademark Defense?
Among fans, opposing coaches and most NBA players, the majority would stake Monty as a defense-first coach. After all, in his first two seasons, the Hornets defensive rating was ranked 10th and 15th. This season we're currently holding steady at 29th. Abysmal to say the least. Even during the aforementioned year Bill Simmons called out Doc Rivers, the Celtics Drtg ranked was ranked 20th overall.
To gain a better perspective of why the defense has been such a magnanimous failure, we'll look at the four factors: opposing eFG%, free throw rate, turnover rate and offensive rebound rate.
1) opposing eFG% - 51.6% (30th). Opposing teams have the easiest time scoring points against the Hornets per attempt than any other NBA team. According to Dean Oliver, shooting is the most important factor as 40% of a team's defensive performance is based on it.
2) opposing turnover rate - 12.87 (25th). Teams can mildly offset poor opposing eFG% through the creation of turnovers. Unfortunately, the Hornets create very few turnovers that would lead to more defensive stops and quite possibly better offensive looks such as through fastbreak points.
3) opposing offensive rebound rate - 27.41 (20th). Not as bad as the previous two categories, but this rate still puts us practically in the bottom 1/3 of the NBA. Moreover, we've been involved in numerous close losses where we all distinctly remember the opposition extending their possession with an offensive rebound. Or two. Or ten.
4) opposing free throw rate - 26.0 (8th). At first glance, it appears we're really almost elite when it comes to the charity stripe. However, when you consider the Hornets miniscule free throw rate (23.8 ~ 27th), the positive impact is minimized due to the disappointing differential.
According to Dean Oliver, winning teams usually perform well in at least three of these categories. Since we're not even close, a 110.0 Drtg sounds about right. Strike TWO.
Wary of the Marcus Thornton Lesson
Right now, Monty is behind in the count, down 0-2 with a lousy record and atrocious defense. For the sake of argument, we'll currently give him the benefit of the doubt and write off these deficiencies for a host of reasons including but not limited to short sample size, no Eric Gordon and a very young inexperienced team trying to come together against the best competition in the world.
However, one criticism that he should not be able to deflect at this point are his rotations. Going into this year, it was obvious the Hornets were in the early stages of rebuilding for the future. The starting lineup very much reflected this: Greivis Vasquez, Austin Rivers, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez. To boot, this group was largely together when the Hornets got off to a 3-2 start back in November.
Since that time and a countless losses later, Monty has experimented with a number of different rotations that were not all related to injury. The revolving doors have primarily come at both wing positions. Specifically, as to where Rivers was once demoted, Aminu has entirely fallen out of the rotation and has registered 3 DNP's in a row.
Monty first removed Aminu from the rotation on December 7th:
"We weren't getting production at that (small forward) position,'' Williams said before Saturday night's game against the Heat. "I thought Xavier did a good of attacking the basket and Darius (Miller) was solid when he came in.''
Williams said Aminu is fine and is not in the doghouse, although he has struggled with inconsistency since he was acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers before last season.
After a few games from the initial benching, Aminu was back in the starting lineup for the next 4 games so perhaps there was no doghouse? However, the last five games and approximately 11 minutes total demonstrate something discipline orientated is occurring.
Both Rivers and Aminu are young players who have made and will continue to make a ton of mistakes. Yet, is it proper Rivers continues to see plenty of development time despite the consistent display of inefficiency while Aminu's purported production issues chains him to the bench? Even if the Aminu benching is largely effort related, does a 21 year old need more than a game or two to get his head straight? Especially if there are no continuing issues between the player and coach?
Moreover, Xavier Henry and Darius Miller have also seen sporadic court time. Instead, Monty has chosen to go with Roger Mason, Lance Thomas and even newly signed journeyman, Dominic McGuire. During some of the recent gamethreads and recaps, I've attempted to defend Monty out of respect to his style of coaching. His old school mentality believes in playing the game the right way above all else. For example, young players who demonstrate a lack of effort will be pushed to the end of the bench.
However, with each game that passes, it gets harder to defend this notion. Plenty of times we have witnessed one of the stalwart rotation players not exhibit full effort. In addition, the worry of a double standard growing larger within the team will become very real. For the very reason Monty is attempting to insert a specific culture in New Orleans, it could also backfire. There is a reason why many pundits consider plenty of good coaches poor developers of talent. Harsh methodologies push the young guys to perhaps tune out, or worse, totally shut down. For a team that is 100% looking to the future, this would be a travesty.
As of yet, Monty Williams hasn't lost any member of the team, nonetheless, we must not forget the lesson of Marcus Thornton. Hard headed personalities sometimes require a different approach by coaches. Players don't all march to the beat of the same drum so every attempt should be made to change the tactics in order to achieve the desired result. Otherwise, Monty, you just might be looking at Strike THREE.