New Orleans Pelicans Issues Go Beyond Monty Williams

Let’s get one thing straight – I am not a ‘Monty Apologist’ or a ‘Fanboy’. I wouldn’t even call myself an optimist by any means. Yet, because I don’t scream FIRE MONTY! from the mountain tops, I have been called all of these things dozens of times. The truth is that I want this team to win and win big as much, if not more, than anyone else. But as I attempt to ascertain why this team is not living up to the expectations of some, it is impossible for me to put all of the responsibility on one man. There are several issues with this basketball team, and yes one of those issues is Monty, but he is not alone, and simply replacing him will not have the effect that it seems like most fans would expect.

Before I get to the other issues, I want to address several common complaints about Monty, separating them into 3 categories (true, untrue, unknown).


1.) Monty’s system results in a pace that is too slow for the talent he has here

The counter to this argument was always that Monty’s teams played at a slow pace because of its personnel, and when the team was filled with guys like David West and Chris Paul or Jarrett Jack and Chris Kaman, then the slow pace was understandable as that is what the personnel preferred. But this Pelicans team is currently sitting at 24th in pace despite having multiple players that would thrive in a high-octane offense.

2.) Monty is too conservative when his players get into foul trouble

Anthony Davis should never come out when he has two fouls in the second quarter. Ever. AD averages exactly two fouls in 36 minutes, so the data says that it will take him another 72 minutes to foul out. Unless the Pelicans are going to play in a six overtime game on that night, the numbers say that you don’t have to worry about him fouling out, even if he has two in the second quarter. He is simply to valuable to the team and you can’t get those minutes back.

3.) Monty is too conservative with his minutes overall

A counterargument would point at the San Antonio Spurs, where Monty learned his craft, and say that the Spurs conservative plan for minutes allocation should be followed by everyone. But, this is a relatively new thing for Popovich, and is a result of their current age. Duncan was a 38-41 minute per game guy in his first six seasons. On this team, AD gets 36 and Jrue and Tyreke get 34 a piece. You can point to several other top end guards the same age and see that they get 36-38 minutes per game. It seems small, but when you have a team as thin as the Pelicans, then the 8-10 minutes that you can give to AD, Jrue, and Tyreke and take away from Rivers, Salmons, and Ajinca could be huge. Would it be insane to say that is worth an extra two points per game? If that were the case, the Pelicans expected W/L record right now would be 22-17.


1. Monty should stagger his lineups more

The numbers say that this would just be stealing from Peter to pay Paul. The Pelicans are much better when both Jrue and Tyreke are on the floor, compared to when just one of them is on. By staggering those two, you might reduce the number of bad minutes, but you also reduce the number of good minutes a given lineup would produce. At the end of the day, it would likely be a net neutral and could have negative long-term effects, as it reduces the chemistry you want those two to build for down the line.

2. He never calls a time out to stop a run

This is simply not true. What is true is that he does not call a timeout every time the opponent goes on a run, because that would be impossible and/or not prudent, but he often calls timeouts to stop runs and quite often draws up a really nice play out of those timeouts (another false criticism).

3. Monty doesn’t demand that guys get AD the ball

From Monty himself and other players in post game, this is always an emphasis both before and during the game. Monty emphasizes it in practice and he emphasizes it on off days. Nobody is more frustrated about AD not getting more shots. But simply wanting something to happen does not make it happen. Guards often get impatient as AD takes too long to get position. Other times, guards simply call their own number or teams take away Davis and let the guards try to beat them. Now, it might be fair to call Monty out for not getting more creative in his plays, but there is no truth to the statement that Monty does not make this a priority.


1. Monty doesn’t get on his players enough

We rarely see Monty yell at a guy during the game, so the assumption is that he doesn’t get on them at any time – even though 90% of his time spent with these guys happen behind closed doors. We have seen him bench guys, give them DNP’s, drive guys out of town, and immediately pull them from a game after a bad mistake. What we haven’t seen is him scream and yell at a guy, though, and because of that we assume it never happens even though he disciplines them in ways that would likely be more effective than yelling at them. There aren’t middle schoolers. Heck, there is the issue of whether yelling even works. A new report came out saying Oregon football coaches never yell at their players, and they have been pretty darn successful. But the truth is that I don’t know, and you don’t know, so this should not be an argument for or against him.

2. Monty doesn’t tell his players to go for two-for-one’s

C’mon, none of you really believe this right? Right? I think this is a multiple part problem.

A.) We were spoiled by CP3, one of the smartest players ever and this made us think it was the norm, which leads me to…

B.) Fans think that executing a 2-for-1 is the norm in the NBA. But since this has become a complaint in recent weeks, I have started tracking opponents we play. I consider 36-40 seconds borderline 2-for-1 territory. If there is that much time left, you have a choice to make: Shoot fast and get two possessions or take your time and get 1. I counted 37 possessions by our opponents that met this criteria and the opponent only took a shot with more than 24 seconds left 13 times. Charlotte had 3 such possessions like this when we lost to them a few weeks back and was 0-3. It’s not just us.

C.) Getting a high quality first shot in this situation requires high IQ players who can shoot off the dribble. Tell me, how many of our guards meet one of those criteria, let alone two?

3. Monty doesn’t motivate our players

This usually becomes a standard complaint when the Pelicans lose to a team that the fans feel they should have beat. Terms like lethargic are thrown around or there are assertions that the players didn’t care. These unmeasureable things are measured by the eye, and then put on Monty. The bottom line with all these things is that they just can’t be proven and by throwing out vague arguments, you demean the value of legitimate arguments. More arguments does not equal a better argument. Stick to quality over quantity when evaluating Monty, because I think we would all want to be evaluated on facts not speculation when it came to our jobs.

Outside of Monty, What are the Issues With This Team?

The Roster is chalk full of guys with low basketball IQ and one-dimensionality. Basketball IQ is hard to measure, but you know it when you see it and more importantly, you know when you don’t. You don’t want a coach micromanaging every aspect of the game. Ideally, you want at least one or two coaches on the floor directing the offense and the defense, making sure guys are in the right place at all times. Currently, the Pelicans don’t have any of these guys.

There was a telling play in the 76ers loss last night where Quincy Pondexter forced his guy baseline and expected there to be help waiting for him. Quincy expected this for two reasons: 1.) Because that is the scheme the Pels run and 2.) Because he has been playing with a high IQ team for several years now, and that rotation would have been made in Memphis. Offensively, it is a lot of the same stuff, as guards often dribble into the paint with no alternative plan other than to hoist up a bad shot in traffic. There is never a cut to the rim when an off ball player notices his man standing around watching – instead that player just stands around and watches too.

And lastly, this team is chalk full of one-dimensional players. People look at the Atlanta Hawks and wonder why a roster with seemingly inferior talent can have such a superior record. Well, quite simply, they have a number of guys who can beat you in multiple ways IN ADDITION TO their specialists. The Pelicans have AD, Jrue, and a bunch of specialists. When those specialists get a match-up that is beneficial to them, they can look like quasi All-Stars, and on those nights the Pelicans usually win. But when Tyreke faces a team that protects the paint, or Ryno has a man up in his chest all night, or Asik has to guard a more mobile big man who doesn’t play next to the basket, they become non-factors. And on top of all of that, the Pelicans highest paid player isn’t even one-dimensional. There is nothing that Eric Gordon does at an elite level anymore.

So, you have four guys who are eating up over 60% of your cap who can be taken out of a game on any given night. They can only contribute with good to ideal match ups, and are a net negative when the one part of their game that gets them paid is not working. And to be honest, each of these guys are who they are. Asik is not going to develop hands and/or a post game. Tyreke Evans can go from horrible to below average as a shooter, but he will never be a threat. And Ryan Anderson has add a few nifty moves inside the arc, but overall, that is not going to provide efficient enough offense to make up for his terrible defense.

You can have one or two of these guys long term, at a reasonable salary. But you can not dedicate so much money to build a top heavy roster full of guys who can disappear on any given night.

The Next Step For Monty and the Pelicans

So, should Monty be the coach or not? Let’s be honest, that’s what you want to know and that is what you are going to judge this piece on. Well, to be perfectly frank, I do not think Monty Williams should be the coach of the Pelicans beyond this season and I can even make the argument that he should go prior to the All-Star break.

If the goal is to win a championship, Monty has not shown anything to make us believe that he will be able to get the Pelicans to that level of play. He is a dedicated, well-intended man, but it is nearly impossible to be the best team out of 30 without a superior basketball mind at the helm. Monty’s destiny is most likely to be an elite assistant coach, but there is nothing in his resume that screams ‘basketball genius.’

Now, most would argue that it is pointless to fire Monty in-season, because that just means one of the assistant coaches will slide over and the hope for playoffs will likely be lost due to the lack of continuity. My response would be that this team is not making the playoffs anyway, and the possibility of a shake up could wake this team up from its dogmatic slumber. It also will send out a signal to top coaches both in the NBA and college that a once-in-a-lifetime job has opened up. The possibility exists to coach the next all-time great NBA player through his prime, and it is something every coach must consider.

You look at a guy like John Calipari, and he is not going to make a quick decision at the end of the year if you fire Monty in May and Cal is already on the recruiting trail. But let him start thinking about it now. Same goes for Shaka Smart, Fred Hoiberg, and a number of top assistants around the league. Let all of them know that this job will be available in mid-April, and that Anthony Davis will sign a new contract in July that will lock him up for at least five more years.

Who wouldn’t want that job? Let them start thinking about it today. Let them get their assistants and possibly even the executives they want to work with lined up, so that they can hit the ground running the second the season ends. Because they are going to have a lot of work to do, not only with the systems they want to implement, but with the roster they want to construct. It will be an uphill battle, but you are starting with the guy most likely to be the best player on the planet over the next five years.

And hopefully, a much improved coach and roster.


33 responses to “New Orleans Pelicans Issues Go Beyond Monty Williams”

  1. I like Monty.. As a man and AD loves him but I think that he might have already hit his ceiling as a coach. I’m not sure it is fair that he hasn’t had a full season with this roster healthy.. But I’m jumping on the Calipari train!!!
    It does make sense to give him as much time as possible to think about taking the job. Getting Calipari would also replace one coach that AD loves with another that he loves… Which is important. Keep the big man happy!

  2. The Hawks example is an interesting one. I see it as almost a chicken or egg thing. Horford and Milsap are versatile, smart, fully formed players. But I don’t think the Hawks surround them with tons of multitalented players. I don’t think too many of their other guys were seen as “smart” or multitalented before this season.
    So it begs the question-how much of their basketball IQ/identity/style/whatever is attributed to Budenholzer? He has an offensive and defensive philosophy that fits the talent they have and he has been able to effectively teach it. It was evident last year, even with all their injuries. I remember watching them play the Pelicans last season and immediately falling in love with their play. Some of that is players having the skills to play the way he wants, but he has to be reinforcing and teaching some of that too, right? He has leveraged their talents to the fullest and they are playing beautiful basketball.
    Phoenix, among others, is another interesting example. They are filled with specialists surrounding dynamic attacking guards. They run systems that fit who they are. Hornacek has done a masterful job squeezing everything out of that roster. 
    To me, a lot of it refers back to Jason’s article on Loss Aversion. Bud and Hornacek give their players license to play. They have defined roles, a defined structure, and they all know what it is. It seems like Monty’s team are usually trying to figure out where they should be and what they should be doing. That isn’t good for year 5. If the schemes are so byzantine that only “smart” players can grasp them, then it’s probably time to change the schemes. The league is becoming more transient each and every year. 
    I do agree that the roster is far from perfect. Having 3 ball dominant guards has always been a big question hanging over the team. It’s hard to not be the man after years of NBA success (at least individually) doing so. Same time, the roster is good enough to be better than what we’ve seen this year, especially defensively. But I don’t think Monty has shown the ability to max out the type of talent he has. It’s time to move on.

  3. New blood needed. New coach, new system, new roster. Keep A.D. and Jrue, everyone else tradeabe for Dell or new GM. EG has player option for only one more year, maybe that exp. contract a good trade chip. This misery could soon be transformed into something really special.
    For future use, it’s chock full.

  4. The simple question is: Which is the problem, roster or coach?

    You examined the coach, let’s look at the roster.  What percent of other Western Conference playoff teams would our guys, besides Davis, start for?  Make your list and see if that points to the fact that we don’t have the talent to be a playoff team now.   My list is below.  It totals 1 and 2/3rds positions out of 5 and points to Memphis as the only team we could complete with, which has been historically true.  That’s not near enough to make the playoffs.  Period.  So the roster is the problem!
    Davis 100%
    Jrue 37.5%: Houston, Memphis, Phoenix
    Tyreke 37.5%:  LAC, Memphis, OKC
    Eric (0%): OKC (but would chose Tyreke at SG)

    By ever measure I know of, we are on schedule in our rebuilding process.  That tells me fan expectations, not team performance, is the problem.

  5. I don’t understand how or why you keep saying that Tyreke is only a one-dimensional player. He’s elite at scoring inside and can hit shots (not completely consistently, but not as badly as you’re implying), as well as defend fairly well. He’s the sole reason we’ve won a lot of our games.

  6. What about Monty’s assistants? Do you think Monty could have been surrounded with better assistant coaches who are vocal during games. Helping the coach make decisions, giving him important details, etc. ?
    Losses to Celtics and Sixers within 5 days is inexcusable. On this week’s coach-talk on WWL, Monty said this trip is a separating trip. He said they have been going back and forth at .500 for a while now and it is time to get better. Well, Unfortunately, the separation is going in the wrong direction. OKC is coming strong. They have just tied us with a win against Golden State(!) last night. And they are still trying to improve their roster asking for Brook Lopez. 
    So, how are we supposed to stay above Suns and Thunder if we cannot beat Celtics and Sixers?
    So, either Monty starts making some major talks with his team and wakes them up to get them on a win-streak. Or, our playoff hopes fade away day by day.
    AD is still 21, Jrue, Tyreke and Evans are really on decent contracts and Gordon’s contract is about to expire. Gordon ties the hands of Demps and Demps cannot complete his puzzle with a final move bringing the second star next to AD unless Gordon leaves!

    Can he be patient enough with Monty until we see that big move? I am not su re, especially if Monty keeps losing to inexperienced teams showing all of us that He is also not experienced enough to carry this team forward.

    Spoelstra was also inexperienced but they had Lebron-Wade and Bosh to carry the team and hide that inexperience. Looks like Davis just by himself cannot cover for Monty’s mistakes…

    Time for Monty to step up or leave?

  7. I have to agree with all your points from players short coming to the dismissal of Monty. I can see the frustration on his face. He gave it his all , but his all just isn’t good enough. Anderson defense is so poor that I had to just laugh , watching him in the Philly game. On a number of occasions he refuses to even raise his hand when the defender is attempting a shot. I notice they play poor help defense and many times a player will force the opponent to go a certain direction and his  help defender will just stand there ignoring the guy with the ball. I wonder do the Pels watch game film with the players, too many times I see the same mistakes. I guess that goes back to basketball IQ.

  8. evans has one elite skill, driving to the basket. However, that skill requires the ability to finish at the rim. That skill disappears many games. He is average of worse at jump shooting, defending, and protecting the ball. He sometimes is above average at assisting and rebounding but isn’t cosistent there either.

  9. When Monty and Dell came on they had too many problems to overcome with winning one of them. Monty was given a reprieve when the team was plagued by so many injuries but now that he has a predominately healthy team, his limitations are undeniable and on display. Although I would hate to see him fired mid season, I think it would make another losing season easier on the fan base, although I don’t think the organization would do that. We need to let assistants know that this job is available as quickly as possible. I know Avery’s name has been thrown out there but I am not so sure about him as a potential replacement for Monty and feel the same about George Karl. I say everybody is trade able except for AD and Jrue.

  10. lets not be prisoners of the moment. I threw up jus like everyone else when the pelz lost to Philly but 2 of our best players on both ends are hurt and philly took advantage of that. they played like a team that was desperate for a win and you have to give them credit. personally I think pondexter has looked like a player that can help get us over the hump with everyone healthy. so before I jump on the fire Monty wagon I want to see how this team performs when our true starting lineup of jrue- gordon/tyreke-pondexter-AD-Asik are all healthy cause it’s only a matter of time before pondexter is starting. after a few games of seeing what the team looks like healthy we could truly determine if Monty must go or not

  11. DonDP Just as an FYI – about 90% of this article was written more than a week ago. Had little or nothing to do with Philly game

  12. okay cool. but really my comment is directed towards the fans that want to fire Monty following every loss
    -Aaron Rodgers

  13. xman20002000 Note: MCW was not passed over for Austin Rivers. Rivers was in the 2012 draft class; MCW was in the 2013 draft class. If anything, we passed over him (or, more likely,  Nerlens Noel), and Dario Saric (2014 draft class), for Jrue Holiday. That raises the interesting question of  whether MCW, and at some point Saric, would be better on the team than Jrue. We won’t know until we see Saric in the NBA, but at this point, the trade seemingly favors the Pelicans, given Jrue’s more complete skill set.

  14. Always a well reasoned article from McNamara. My only quibble is a semantics argument. I don’t really like the term basketball IQ, this is at least in part because I don’t have a high one.  But most of the time when I hear it used , I think it means does a player generally makes the smart basketball play.  Intelligence may be a reason someone makes a smart play, but instincts, reflexes, mobility – a particular players talents/skill set likely play as much of a role.  A given player might be a PhD in basketball tactics and it may not translate for whatever reason to their play on the court. Depending on how well a teams defensive/offensive system fits their players skill we may see them make more “smart” or “dumb” plays. I think part of the pelicans problem is that the rosters, Monty’s system and the current stats based conventional wisdom of the NBA don’t fit together very well.  Something needs to change. The coach is often the easiest scapegoat, so that will probably come to pass.  I just don’t like hearing the phrase “low basketball IQ”, because it sounds like were calling are guys stupid and I really don’t think thats true.

  15. I really do not want to see a college coach brought in. Larry Brown is the only established college coach I can think of that came in and had some success in the NBA. And even that was very up and down. Stevens in well regarded in Boston, but he is getting his chance to lose.  Not what we would be firing Monty to  do. Have a college coach take his lumps. Calipari’s success seems to be about 60% recruiting, 20% player development, and 10% strategy. That is not what you need in an NBA coach.  
    I really don’t know who the star assistants in the NBA are at this point.  I do feel the Pelicans would be an attractive job with Davis entering his prime.  Is Jeff Van Gundy worth a shot? I agree with sentiment that Mark Jackson, is to similar to Monty to be worth the trauma of a change.  I kind of wonder about Mike Malone, but again similar philosophy. I also the 76s and the Hornets coaches have done well with the hand they were dealt.

  16. dschmid4 I hate using it too – especially when my evaluation says some of our players are low in that category, but if I say CP3 has a high IQ, then there has to be a flip side. To me, the IQ of a player can be seen when a play breaks down or something goes wrong – does he know what the high percentage play is without someone having to tell him? Is he always aware of game situation – not just score and shot clock, but whether his team is in the bonus, who specifically on the other team is in foul trouble, opponents tendencies, etc. 
    These guys are usually referred to as “coaches on the floor” because a coach is (or at least should be) always aware of these things. Players with lower IQ revert to base instincts and get frazzled when something doesn’t go the way it should. They also think of each possession in a vacuum, rather than seeing the big picture (the entire game or even season as a whole). Example – a great PG gets certain guys touches early, even if it is not the most efficient offensive option, because he knows it will keep them engaged throughout the remainder of the game. 
    I would love if we had more of these types of players, and it is possible that some grow into it over time. But they are on the other side of the IQ scale currently.

  17. This article and its author have no credibility.After all these years of listening to you
    bitch & moan about Monty Williams, these are the best 3 “true” faults you
    can find with him as a head coach?Seriously?Two of your “true”
    faults (#2 and #3) are not actually faults at all but simply disagreements
    about matters of judgment/philosophy/opinion.And I bet if you took a poll of all current and past NBA head coaches,
    you’d find a vast majority that actually side with Coach Williams on these two points
    instead of with you.And your “true”
    fault #1 may actually be a product of the current roster being too slow to learn
    the current offensive sets the coach wants to install instead of something that
    goes back 4 years to the CP3/DWest era.
    And your idea that John Calipari is a better head coach than
    Coach Williams and that he is going to be willing to leave Kentucky to come
    coach the New Orleans Pelicans is absurd.First, Calipari has the sweetest job in all of men’s basketball (college
    or NBA).He has a much more loyal,
    devoted and intelligent fan base with the Wildcats than he could ever hope to
    find with the Pelicans (a team that will always play second fiddle to the
    Saints in this town).And Kentucky fans don’t
    call for Calipari to be fired every time he loses a game like you and other
    Pelicans fans do with Coach Williams.They
    don’t care a whit that he uses an “educational institution” as a 1 year
    revolving door for NBA hopefuls like Anthony Davis.And all you need to know about Calipari as an
    X’s and O’s coach just requires you to look back at that NCAA championship game
    he lost as head coach of the Memphis Tigers.Talk about an important game that a head coach allowed to slip through
    his fingers because of poor coaching – now, that game ought to be held up as
    the prime example of how not to coach a championship game.And you want the Pelicans to fire the team’s 5th
    year, 43 year old head coach (many of whom in the NBA and college coaching
    ranks view as an up-and-comer) during mid-season so they can try – and fail –
    to bring in that guy?If you were put in
    charge, you could easily turn out to be the next Buddy Diliberto – the man who brought
    New Orleans Mike Ditka.

  18. Nice post Michael.  A couple of thoughts. Monty has talked before about quickening the pace. Yet he never seems to be able to coach the team into making those thoughts a reality. This is Monty’s biggest flaw. Second you mention the roster. There is an issue with one dimensional players and it lands at the feet of Dell. He has made many moves – trading for Jrue and Asik and signing as FA’s Anderson and Tyreke. And don’t forget the wasted lottery pick on Austin Rivers (I know he also drafted AD, but so would every other GM with the 1st pick).
    Bottom line is ownership knows that Dell has had 5 years to put this roster together and it won’t ever make it deep into the Western Conference playoffs. Dell will most certainly be replaced at the end of this season. Monty on the other hand is 50/50. May want the new GM to get “lay of the land” for one season before making a move on the coach. Either way – plenty of changes coming this offseason.

  19. Monty is an awful NBA head coach in 2015.  There has been incredibly advancement in the understanding of the game in the past 10 years and Monty is far behind the times.  When every good coach/team is minimizing dead zone shots, defending the 3 pt line, taking more 3’s, going 2 for 1, etc Monty is doing the opposite.  
    There are very few, if any, tangible things Monty Williams does well that aren’t 100% standard for NBA head coaches.

  20. Michael McNamara dschmid4 I am glad that we grabbed one of these “Good Decision-makers” in Q-Pon.  He is a bright spot in these otherwise dismal games.

  21. I’m starting to believe that the main problem is the disconnect between Dell & Monty.

    They have different philosophies as to the direction of this team.
    Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dell is the one that is gone.  And if that is the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next GM wants to pick his own head coach.

  22. Michael McNamara dschmid4 I hear you.  I still think IQ is a little misleading in this context (though it is how it is generally used in the basketball world). I think good “basketball instincts” better captures part of what we mean when we say high basketball IQ. Another big part that goes into making a player look smart or dumbs is a teams system/culture/identity.  The system is there so if the play or the plan breaks down you are trained in a given approach and do it without thinking. And the whole team knows what you’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to respond as well.  Now has Monty failed to install a system or have the players failed to accept/learn it. Or is it there and my untrained eye just cant see it.

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