Who knew that 2015 could feel like so long ago?
The last time Monty Williams was the head coach of an NBA team, the Golden State Warriors were embarking on their first playoff run under Steve Kerr, Kyle Korver was an Eastern Conference All-Star, and Byron Scott had just led the Lakers to a 17-65 record in his first season as the team’s coach.
And the basketball feels like it was from a different time. That's because it was.
Golden State’s continued dominance ushered in a new era of spacing principles that have transformed the league in a relatively short period of time. Magic Johnson infamously stated that you can’t beat Golden State at their own game while rationalizing the Lakers’ ill-fated 2018-19 roster, and while that may very well be true, much of the league has caught on to the shooting-based market inefficiencies that the Warriors exploited. The average NBA team shot 32 threes per game in 2018-19. The last time Monty Williams was a head coach, that figure was 22.4.
So Williams faces an unusual question for a coach who’s only 47 years old. Has the game passed him by?
Probably not. In the years following his departure from New Orleans, Williams has been an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers, with a stint as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the San Antonio Spurs sandwiched in between, along with experience as an assistant coach for Team USA. It’s more likely than not that he’s updated his philosophies to match the times, despite his five-year hiatus as a head coach.
But even an optimistic view on Williams’ adaptability comes with concerns about his offensive acumen. The 2014-15 Pelicans made the third-fewest passes in the NBA, adjacent to that Scott-led Lakers team. They used the second-most isolations in the NBA despite not having an elite isolation player, and almost everything nice that I can say about his play design is confined to the pick and roll game. He was an average to below-average X’s and O’s coach even relative to his era, and his offensive strengths and weaknesses are similar to Luke Walton’s -- with all that that implies.
Williams is still a relatively young coach, and it’s entirely possible that he’s improved as a tactician over the last five years during his time with three separate playoff organizations. Considering that some view him as the leading candidate for the Lakers’ vacant head coaching position, let’s certainly hope so.