This edition of Hornet Beat is just about all Monty Williams. Guest starring is the stupendous Will Hibert from At The Hive.
1. What grade would you give Monty for the job he’s done this season?
Michael McNamara: B-minus. I think he has done a good job of bringing the rookies along slowly and not putting too much pressure on them. He also has done a good job getting role players to play within themselves. What he hasn’t done enough of, in my opinion, is experiment with unconventional lineups and pairings in order to see how he can gain advantages in future seasons. I would have liked to see more Anderson-Smith-Davis front line minutes, for instance, and more time with Austin Rivers at the point than at the two this season.
Jason Calmes: B. He’s done a good job with the pieces he has. He’s gotten some development for Austin Rivers and Davis. To some extent, Miller and Thomas are better. Anderson is showing new aspects to his game. Vasquez and Lopez have far exceeded expectations. There’s no `whole’, however, and that lies on him. If the team was just overmatched, one could point to Dell or just circumstances, but that is not the case in many games. They give many games away, overmatched or not.
Joe: C. He’s done a fine job developing the lottery picks, but his late game play calling and substitutions have been subpar. I think the losses of James Borrego and Mike Malone hurt more than we realized. As for the lowly grade, I want to watch us win games. That hasn’t happened. Hence C.
Will Hibert: C-minus. His players certainly buy in and seem to enjoy playing for him. I have problems with his rotations at times, but I think that would be true of every coach in the league. My main issues are the porous defense, and late-game ineptitude. The defensive problems go beyond personnel, and the lack of creativity on offense late in games has become a big problem.
2. How has this season changed your opinion of him?
MM: He seems to be more stubborn than I previously thought him to be. I thought that his slow pace and conventional lineups were simply a result of him coaching to his personnel, but this year he was given more unique toys to play with and he just keeps doing the same thing over and over again. Even after the horrible strategy we saw in that Lakers game, he came back two days later and stated that in hindsight, he still doesn’t think it would have been the right move to pull Lopez for Davis in that situation. Stubborn.
JC: Not much. This is pretty much the Monty we were sold: Young, tough, inexperienced, a player’s coach. He’s all that. He’s stayed within himself offensively, and given that he’s a defensive coach, we have yet to see offensive brilliance. He needs some changes on his staff or this era will end very sadly for Monty.
Joe: I’ve come to realize that he’s still really young. He’s dealt with a lot of drama, change, and personalities so far in his career, but he still has a ton to learn about game planning and play calling. On a nightly basis he competes against guys who are twenty years his senior, and in a lot of cases they’ve been thinking specifically about the coaching aspect for two, three, or five times as long. I think he has the talent and the work ethic, but it will be years before he’s able to truly match wits with the top coaches in the league.
Will: Unfortunately it has soured my opinion of him a bit. I chalked the defensive problems of last year up to the rotating and sub-par personnel, but he has had time to get it right with this bunch. I understand Lopez and Vasquez won’t ever be able to properly cover a pick and roll, but the consistent open looks from 3 that are given up by this team has got to be addressed. As Michael stated above, I think his stubbornness, and refusal to adjust has become a major red flag in my book.
3. If you could keep only Monty or only Dell, which would you choose?
MM: I would keep Monty, only because there are hundreds to thousands of guys in the league who could do Dell’s job. The league is getting a lot smarter, and quite frankly, that is why you don’t see as many trades as you used to, or horrible free agent signings for that matter. There is so much data now, and so many people who understand it, that building a team isn’t as hard as it used to be. It’s not as subjective. Jerry West was considered a genius two decades ago when he was making other GM’s who had no grasp of the game look foolish. Now, there are 300 guys in the league who would run circles around Jerry West if he was a full-time GM.
JC: Dell. Monty has yet to show me some virtuosity in his first foray into the business, but Dell has. Dell is operating according to a plan, just like Monty, is hard-nosed, just like Monty, but has pulled off some stunning moves with regularly, unlike Monty. A great coach is less likely to win a titile with a good team then a good coach with a great team, at least in today’s NBA. I’m not sure if either man is great at their job, but Dell has shown more to me.
Joe: Monty. He’s a rare commodity– young, a former player, experienced with big stars, and already a veteran head coach. Those that speak highly of him include some of the best coaches in the league. It kills Monty to lose games, and I can’t imagine he’ll be doing it for too much longer. There’s no wrong answer here though, as Dell has been superior in his role so far in my opinion.
Will: Tough question. Dell has made some moves that I did not like at all, but I love the way he assembled the roster this year with an eye towards the future. His strength as a talent evaluator with regard to the draft are still a big question for me. Monty is held in high esteem around the league, but I am not sure what his strengths are as a coach. He is certainly no offensive genius and his defenses fell off a cliff when Mike Malone went to Golden State. His value may lie in talent development, but that will only get you to a certain point in this league. I’m almost down to flipping a coin on this one, but I take Dell, because I’d like to see what an experienced coach could do with Dell’s roster and plan for the next few years.
4. Do you fault Monty for not finding a way to play Davis and Anderson together more?
MM: I don’t care as much about today as I do about the future. Perhaps Monty is just really worried about Davis getting beat up down low. If and when Davis puts on some weight, I will be really disturbed if these two aren’t getting major minutes together in the future. When that day comes, which I hope it never does, I will be joining the others who are calling for Monty’s job.
JC: No. Davis’ size really does limit his versatility today, which is why Lopez is on the team. There’s no need to force the issue. Monty clearly recognizes this inconvenient fact. Besides, if a star is going to arrive on this team, it just may be by way of a trade involving Anderson.
Joe: Yes. I get his desire to keep Davis from playing against behemoths up front, but at times it’s come at the expense of wins. Davis can handle more than 25 minutes a night, and that’s all he got in January and February.
Will: Yes. A week ago, I probably give a different answer, but after watching poor Robin Lopez’s fluffy-haired corpse be pounded into a grease stain by Kobe-Dwight PnR’s against the Lakers, I think it could be an issue. I know he is skinny, but in that case he would be switching on Kobe on most of those plays. Who would you prefer to guard Kobe in that instance, AD or Lopez? It’s an easy answer for me and I think Monty being either over-protective, stubborn, or both, contributed to throwing away a winnable game in front of one of the biggest crowds of the year. They are the future. Figure it out.
5. What do you make of Eric Gordon being so terrible in the second half of games?
MM: 50% conditioning, 50% mental. He is not at his peak when it comes to his physical fitness, but I think that the great one’s can will themselves to greatness even when their body is not cooperating. Gordon doesn’t seem to have the desire to do that, whether it is because he is not capable or because he doesn’t see the point of doing it when the team is 20 games below .500 and he doesn’t want to be here anyway. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it is in some part mental.
JC: Conditioning and lack of leadership skills. The second half is always tougher than the first since energy has been expended and information has been exchanged. Even if you out-adjust the other team, they still adjust to a degree, forcing changes from the original plan. Gordon clearly has conditioning issues as evidenced by misses that fall short pretty regularly late in games. He clearly has the skills to lead an offense and be successful since he does so earlyl, but he seems to wilt when pressured, as evidenced by an inability to penetrate late in games.
Joe: For now I’ll give him a pass and just say that he’s playing at a disadvantage to other guys, having practiced less in the past year and also because of the conditioning. That said, this isn’t what anyone expected to see from him late in the game.
Will: I want to just say that it is completely a matter of him not having the time to work himself into game shape yet, but we’re far enough along now, where that can not be the only factor. It has clearly become a mental issue as well, as he has talked about it (though probably after some prodding) in interviews recently. His clear change of shot selection (more jumpers, less drives) in the second half speaks of both tired legs and poor decision making. Monty’s ultra simplified late game play-calling certainly doesn’t do Gordon (or the team) any favors in this department either, and makes it that much easier to settle for a bad shot.