The story of Monty Williams on the hot seat continues to be written. While the Pelicans, improbably, maintain a grip on their own playoff hopes a daunting schedule lingers on the horizon. Regardless of the result serious questions can and should be asked if Williams is the appropriate coach going forward.
Two playoff teams from last season faced a similar dilemma. The Washington Wizards extended Randy Wittman for three more years after a trip to the playoffs (and the second round). Washington went 44-38; it was Wittman's first coaching campaign above .500. Bullets Forever was not impressed with his performance.
The Houston Rockets faced a similar decision with even less playoff success. Kevin McHale led the Rockets to a 54-28 record and also netted the five seed. Yes, the difference between the five seed in the East and West was 10 wins. Damian Lillard ensured the series would not go to a deciding game seven, knocking the Rockets out in the first round.
McHale began this season as the only NBA coach on the final year of his contract. That was soon rectified as he was offered and accepted a three year extension in December. Like the Bullets Forever, The Dream Shake was not completely on board with extending McHale.
Fast forward to present day. Washington is 44-33 and probably going to finish 5th in the East once again. Fans remain nonplussed on the impact of Wittman and Twitter rages over his midrange heavy offense. Meanwhile Houston is 53-24 and 2nd in the West despite a number of injuries.
Which one is a more probable scenario for Monty Williams? Continued mediocre performance a la Wittman or improvement in the vein of McHale?
Despite a reputation as a defensive coach Monty has done most of his damage on the offensive end. This will be the third consecutive season of improvement in offensive rating. The Pelicans, despite lacking aesthetics, field a top 10 offense. Relative to the rest of the league it is the second best offense in franchise history, trailing only the 2007-08 Hornets led by Chris Paul.
After Timeout Plays, or ATOs, is where this chalkboard prowess shows up more than anywhere else. The Pelicans are the best team in the entire NBA out of timeouts. Considering that nearly 16% of all offensive plays have been ATOs being first, especially by such a large margin, is one area that supports offensive success.
Monty's strongest suit (which, of course, cannot involve actual suits because my goodness look at that picture) is the buy-in he gets from the players. The Pelicans can and do fail, but at no point do they simply mail it in from an effort stand point. If this roster was full of players trying to stay in the league that would mean less. Beyond Jimmer Fredette every Pelican under contract will get another shot in the NBA this summer if the Pels don't bring them back.
Defense was supposed to be vastly improved this year. Monty had the center he wanted and the wing rotation appeared to be better. Instead the defense continues to lag behind. Playing Anderson at "center" beside Anthony Davis has been a disaster on D. No team has allowed more shots at the basket than the Pelicans.
Five reserves take the floor to begin the second and fourth quarters. If there is one flashpoint where there is universal agreement between people hoping Monty is fired and those concerned with the alternatives it is that playing five reserves at once is a poor decision. Beyond this insistence on playing an all-bench unit Monty also regularly fails to return to his starting units, electing to choose offense (and Ryan Anderson) over defense and Omer Asik.
My biggest area of complaint is the coaches who surround Monty on the bench. Since Mike Malone left the defense has plummeted despite trying both aggressive and conservative approaches. Randy Ayers is the current lead assistant, a relic from Monty's playing days in Philadelphia. Ayers is joined by Dave Hanners, another Larry Brown disciple who coached in Philly. Behind these two are a number of younger coaches; Brian Gates, Fred Vinson, and Kevin Hanson. These are Dell Demps guys.
Can Monty Williams improve? I truly believe he has the capacity to do so if he is also willing to accept some new blood in the chairs to his left and right. Give Gates (who advocated starting Luke Babbitt at SF last March for example) an increased role and voice. Add a new coach who can head up the defense; a Mike Malone in training.
Goodness if Malone is willing see if he will come back as the lead assistant once again!
There are route to improvement beyond "fire the coach." Monty meeting management partway could do a number for his job security.