On Tuesday, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the need for NBA experience on his bench by hiring former New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams to be his top assistant. The Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but were quickly dispatched by the Finals-bound Golden State Warriors in a sweep. Although the series was a lot more competitive than many had thought, the Pelicans’ front office still felt it was time to move in different direction. Williams finished with a 173-221 record in his five seasons in New Orleans. He was 2-8 in the playoffs in that time.
While never heralded as a masterful tactician, Williams’ strengths as a coach lie more in building a special rapport with his players. For an example, read the Chris Ballard piece for Sports Illustrated on how Williams helped Pelicans’ forward Ryan Anderson deal with the passing of his girlfriend. Williams is the type of coach that players run through walls for. He’s the type of coach the can conform a malcontent, and turn him into an effective contributor.
Williams will likely be the ying to Donovan’s yang. Donovan and Thunder GM Sam Presti seem to be in lockstep in their love and understanding for how analytics can help a coach better understand the game. Williams, on the other hand, seems more like an “eye test/gut feeling” type of coach. That balance between coaching ideologies could be something that helps the Thunder finally get over the hump. Former Thunder head coach Scott Brooks never fully embraced the idea of analytics, and that was likely part of the reason why he was let go.
In addition, it’s always a plus to have an assistant coach that has keen insight into what will likely be one of the next great superstars in the league, in Anthony Davis. Having someone on the bench that knows Davis and his nuances will definitely be a positive moving forward. Another perk of having Williams on the OKC bench is that he has a history with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook through USA Basketball. As both players approach unrestricted free agency in the next two seasons, having a trusted voice on the bench may prove tantamount in retaining the two superstars.
This move likely completes the assistant coaching staff for the Thunder. Former Alabama Tide head coach Anthony Grant, who was an assistant for Donovan at Florida, has already been hired onto Donovan’s staff and will likely be the “defensive coordinator” of the team. Darko Rajakovic and Mark Bryant, who were assistant coaches under the Brooks regime, have also been retained.