Five Takeaways Monty Williams Will Take From This Season

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Published: March 25, 2014

To get this out of the way, Pelicans Head-Coach Monty Williams will be back next season. Whether you think he should or not does not matter, your opinion on this will not affect the outcome. Maybe after next season, but as of right now it bears little in the discussion of building for this basketball club’s future.

Michael McNamara has said in our recent podcast that Monty Williams is the third most improved person on the Pelicans team. It’s a good point because we often forget that coaches also take time to grow into their role. This is Williams’ first time as a coach and while the rope is getting shorter it’s not as bad as we can make it out to be sometimes.

This season didn’t go the way the Pelicans planned. They suffered extensive injuries and continue to struggle defensively. However, there have been marked improvements of late and certain players have emerged.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at five takeaways that Williams can use headed towards next season.

1. Anthony Davis is the big cheese

This franchise was always going to be built around Davis, but before this season there were still plenty of questions as to whether he’d be leader of the pack. Well, after this season it’s safe to say he will be.

AD has put up stellar numbers: 21.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 1.4 steals all on eFG% of 53% and PER of 27.2 (!). These numbers lead you to believe that Davis will be the world-pro that a team needs for championship aspirations.

Bigger than anything has been his 4th quarter performance. In the final period Davis has averaged 6.1 points (8th in the league), 2.7 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. In his last eight games he’s averaged (gasps) 32.25 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals all on 58% shooting from the field.

Monty Williams can now safely build line-ups around Davis. Figuring out what kind of players work best with him will take a little bit more time, but we can already start to see who can and can’t play with him.

2. This team needs to stay healthy

It’s an easy thing to look at and say that health was a big detriment to this year’s record. The Pelicans were down two significant players and one major role player. New Orleans has gone through some severe growing pains.

Tyreke Evans couldn’t figure out his role on the team for a stretch. With Ryan Anderson out he found it tough to finish in the lane. But working better with Anthony Davis has served him well and the two have developed chemistry.

Austin Rivers and Anthony Morrow have stepped up in ways that might not have been possible had Jrue Holiday been around. Both guards have played significant roles both defensively and offensively and have shown their value to the team.

Having said all of this it’s imperative that New Orleans stays healthy. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson add so much to the club. Developing on-court chemistry is vital in figuring out the team’s identity.

Many like me have blamed Williams for poor player-rotations. However injuries have certainly effected Williams’ ability to piece together groups of players that work well together. Slowly he’s showing signs of learning (like keeping Greg Stiemsma out of the game and giving Austin Rivers more playing time for defensive purposes).

Heading into next season Williams and his staff have to do all they can to ensure that this team stays healthy. Mainly this is up to the physicians, trainers (how players exercise in the gym), dietitians and (probably the biggest) the players. Health is a big reason why some teams are more successful than others. If the Pelicans want to make the playoffs next season they’ll have to do all they can to ensure they’re healthy.

3. There’s lots of work to do on defense

The Pelicans are a poor defensive ball-club and it must be upsetting to Williams to see the same mistakes being made time after time.

In seasons past big-men have hedged on pick and rolls trying to contain the ball handler. However, with Greg Stiemsma, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey New Orleans have been vulnerable in the pick-and-roll game.

Earlier in the season the scheme was the same. The big-men hedged and attempted to contain the ball handler. The only issue here was that these big-men fouled at a ridiculously high rate.

The scheme was changed and it has since caused a multitude of issues. If a quality guard is able to lose his opponent he’s able to draw the big man and thus create a conundrum for the Pelicans who are unsure whether to help or not.

This anecdote is a microcosm for how the Pelicans have issues on the defensive side of the ball. They don’t communicate at times and are often unsure whether to help or stay on their man. There are various other aspects of the defensive game that New Orleans must improve in and Monty surely knows this.

Adding other pieces will help New Orleans adjust their scheme and put their players in the best position to succeed.

4. Eric Gordon does not fit

It’s been very pleasing to see Gordon get healthy this season. It’s always great to see a player who has been labelled an injury prone guy stick it out and play the vast majority of the season.

Prior, the question was whether three high usage guards could share the ball. Well at times it worked, but there have been a lot of times that it hasn’t.

Tyreke and Eric’s games are too similar, but Evans is a much better play-maker. While Gordon can shoot, he doesn’t possess the quick release you would desire as an off-ball guard. At $14 million a season would any team really desire an off-ball guard? No, because Gordon needs the ball in his hands and so does Evans.

The truth is that Gordon doesn’t fit on this roster and it might be best for this team to move in another direction. His scoring is good, but not great and his defense too. There has been times this season that he hasn’t received the calls he’s used to.

But with a healthy season under his belt Gordon will likely find plenty of teams willing to bring him on despite his big contract. His commitment isn’t as long as it used to be (two-years left after this, one if you discount the player-option).

While the Pelicans can still operate with Gordon on the roster their major needs at small-forward and center will continue to go unanswered with him on the roster.

5. The Pelicans have to push the ball

After this season if Monty Williams and his staff don’t see the glaring issue that’s staring them right in the face I’ll be flabbergasted. The New Orleans Pelicans have to push the ball.

Amin Elhassan has pointed this out on our podcast before that Monty Williams likes to run slow-paced teams. He’s highlighted that this could be his biggest issue as a head-coach moving into the future.

However with Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis running the floor and with Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson to return at some point in the future it’s hard to imagine this team strategically deciding their best option is to slow the ball down.

Every time Evans pushes the ball good things happen. When it’s the half-court it’s clear to see that he struggles more. But it’s not just him: Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow and yes even Al-Farouq Aminu all strive when the pace is increased.

Now, I understand that just saying “push the ball” doesn’t really mean much. The biggest causing factor that leads teams to push the ball is by getting blocks and steals.

Well there’s good news there: New Orleans is ranked 1st in the league in blocks and 12th in steals (down since the beginning of the year). If they can improve the scheme defensively their ability to push the ball will not hide behind their inability to generate blocks and steals.

There’s a whole lot to be excited about with this ball-club. They have their superstar and they have some pieces around them. While Williams has struggled with line-ups and had infatuations with certain players there are some takeaways from this season that can be implemented into the next.

What are some of your takeaways from this season? Where can the team improve and where do they look good currently? Leave a comment below. You can follow James on Twitter: @jsgrayson

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