3. What Williams learned from his last head coaching gig
Williams coached the New Orleans Pelicans from 2010-15, giving him playoff experience with Chris Paul, experience with building from the ground up as the franchise decided to do upon trading CP3, and experience with getting back to the playoffs as Anthony Davis blossomed.
That kind of familiarity is invaluable to a Suns franchise that’s struggled with that second step for almost a decade, but it’s also been a while since Williams was a head coach in this league. He’s served as an assistant for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers since 2015, and is well-liked and respected around the league for a reason, but it’s worth wondering how his coaching style will adapt to a modern NBA that changes more and more each year.
Williams has had plenty of time to think about his successes and failures as a head coach in this league, as well as what he’s learned in his time as an assistant.
"“When I first started coaching in New Orleans, I thought I had the answers,” he said. “I was a lot younger, probably more brash, more stubborn. Now, I’m starting to figure out the questions, if that makes sense. I’m probably in a place in my life where I’m more apt to listen and delegate more.”"
With such a young roster, where buy-in is key to laying a foundation, Williams was quick to admit learning how to reach his players was something he needed to improve upon from his time in New Orleans.
"“I think as I’ve evolved as a coach, I understand the difference between telling someone the truth and embarrassing them, and that was one of my flaws in New Orleans. My truth-telling at times would embarrass players. That was something that I had to deal with. I spent a lot of time talking to former players and they would always say, ‘Coach, I love playing for you, but…’ and the “but” was something I had to work on.”"
As far as X’s and O’s are concerned, Williams isn’t billed as an offensive tactician like Igor Kokoskov was, but that might be a good thing for such a young, raw and moldable group. The Suns’ new head coach can’t say what kind of playing style the team will employ, since he doesn’t know what the team will even look like after the draft and free agency.
Williams confirmed the Suns will play through Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but outside of that, he was unwilling to ascribe a playing style to his new team, asserting that it needs to be tailored to his personnel, not the other way around.
"“Obviously we want to play fast, but for me, playing fast does not mean rushing down the floor,” he said. “There’s nothing proven that says rushing the ball down the floor leads to wins. For me, pace is playing quickly with the ball and under control.”"
This tracks with Williams’ time in New Orleans. In his five seasons at the helm, the Pelicans played at an average pace of 90.7 and ranked 29th, 30th, 30th, 20th and 27th among all NBA teams in pace for each respective season. For reference, the league’s slowest-paced team in 2018-19, the Memphis Grizzlies, were a full seven points faster than the Pelicans’ average pace during that span, and almost four points higher than Monty’s fastest team in 2013-14.
Obviously the league has changed a lot in the last half-decade, and Williams has certainly been taking notes, observing that teams like the the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors wear their opponents out with crisp ball movement and unrelenting player movement.
The Suns will surely adopt some of those concepts, but those expecting a fast-paced, run-and-gun team with young legs might be disappointed. At this point, transition defense appears to be more of a concern for Williams than transition offense.
"“Defensively, we have a lot to improve on,” he said. “Transition will be where our defensive growth starts. It takes time to put that kind of defensive system in.”"