Monty Williams Was Just the New Orleans Pelicans' Scapegoat
After making the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and giving the number-one overall seed all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs, the Pelicans fired head coach Monty Williams. Williams spent five seasons in New Orleans, and while it looked like from the outside that they were making improvements every year, apparently the growth was too slow in a fast moving Western Conference.
However, while Williams is certainly not without blame, the Pelicans' growth over the last three seasons should be evidence enough that he deserved another year or two with this team. New Orleans improved their Defensive Rating (DRtg) from 110.1 last season to 107.3 this season, and they were the second best team in the NBA in opponent’s three-point percentage at 33.5%. Plus, while people like to point to Williams’ reluctance to increase Davis’ usage (Davis was 23rd in the NBA in Usage Rating at 27.8), the Pelicans still finished the season with the eighth best Offensive Rating (ORtg) in the NBA at 108.2. Their ORtg has also improved steadily over the past four seasons, and while their defensive numbers were still not great in 2015, their opponent’s field goal percentage has dropped every year for the past three seasons from 47.1% in 2012-2013, to 45.6% this past season.
On top of that, Williams was dealing with injuries to important players all season, and his team still made the playoffs. Important offensive players like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday all missed at least 20 games this year, and despite this, the team was still 10th in the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) at just over 50%.
In a division where all five teams made the playoffs, normally that would merit a job well done from the front office, especially when the team won nine more games than it did a season ago. However, when you’re dealing with the ever-fascinating saga that is the New Orleans Pelicans front office moves, you get to the point where the firing of Williams is not that surprising.
Front Office Missteps
To say the New Orleans’ front office got hurt the most by the Chris Paul trade is an understatement. When the league vetoed the deal that would have sent Pau Gasol to New Orleans and Paul to the Lakers, it was almost certain they wouldn’t get fair value in return in another trade. Combine that with the league owning the Pelicans during the time of the trade, and the whole thing probably left a yearlong sour taste in New Orleans’ mouth.
However, beyond that, Dell Demps has still made some questionable moves that could have made this franchise look a lot different this year.
Early in his tenure, Demps traded a first-round pick for Jerryd Bayless. He then shipped out Bayless a month later, and that first-round pick ended up being Tobias Harris. However, after the Paul trade in 2011, and after Tom Benson bought the team in 2012, the team landed Davis with the first-overall pick, and Demps got the Magic back by trading Gustavo Ayon for Anderson. Then, during that same offseason, Demps traded away Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor for Rashard Lewis.
But the two costliest moves came over the past two seasons. The Pelicans drafted an injured Nerlens Noel in 2013, only to trade him and their 2014 first-round pick to the Sixers for Holiday. That first-round pick ended up being Elfrid Payton, and since the trade, Holiday has played a total of 74 games for the Pelicans in two seasons.
The team also traded their 2015 first-round pick for Omer Asik, who has had limited impact on the Pelicans’ defense this season. During the playoffs, the Warriors completely took Asik out of the game -- Golden State posted an eFG% of more than 60% when Asik was on the floor, and a 46.1% eFG% when he was on the bench.
So, if you’re keeping track at home, that means the Pelicans could have had a starting five this season that looked something like Evans, Gordon, Ariza, Noel and Davis. Not to mention they could have had a bench of Payton, Harris and Anderson. Plus they might have been able to keep their first round pick this year.
If Coach Williams had a roster like that, he may have been able to beat the Warriors, not just play them close. Williams is clearly the scapegoat in New Orleans this summer, but it shouldn’t take him too long to find work whenever he is ready.