Inside the shiny Rolle Activity Center at Northern Arizona University on Tuesday afternoon, the energy was focused and collaborative. As Monty Williams led his first official, all-hands-on-deck camp day as Suns head coach, the beliefs he had spoken about publicly all summer could be seen in practice.
At Summer League in July, Williams preached the importance of empowering associate head coach Willie Green and the rest of the staff to lead practice and develop the Summer League roster without Williams’ oversight. The head coach participated and was there to lend an ear, but said he wanted to let Green operate freely.
Throughout the summer, Williams has allowed assistant Mark Bryant to train and work with big man Deandre Ayton, creating a partnership between the two that Williams thinks has already helped Ayton immensely. Veteran center Aron Baynes encouraged Ayton to pay attention to the little things such as finishing a put-back off a miss and taking the ball all the way under the basket after a make to reset the offense.
“Aron can definitely help me be great,” Ayton said Tuesday. “(I can) just be quiet and learn and listen.”
In the part of practice open to the media, it wasn’t Williams running plays with the team, but assistant Darko Rajakovic, who moved from Oklahoma City this summer to join Williams’ staff. Rajakovic was demanding consistency from the sets the Suns were learning while Williams observed and assisted from the sideline.
As the starters operated out of one set that featured Ricky Rubio initiating the offense, Ayton in the triple threat outside leading to a dribble hand-off and Devin Booker finishing the play with a jumper (*chef’s kiss*), Williams moved off to the side to speak with rookie Jalen Lecque, a youngster whom teammates say has already been a source of joy in the locker room but who looked off at practice Tuesday.
I didn’t ask Williams what was said in that talk, but the dynamic Williams hopes to build was on full display in Flagstaff. Rajakovic was fully comfortable running practice, while Williams’ leadership style, which he defines as service to others, could be seen not only in how he served Rajakovic, but how he was able to take a one-on-one moment with Lecque.
Part of the comfort Williams had to be able to walk away from the on-court drills also derives from his trust in Rubio. Multiple times already, Williams has said he doesn’t feel the need to instruct Rubio on how to lead or teach on the floor. Ayton said Rubio, despite being a stoic dude, is already impacting him on the court.
“You give guys a chance to get better every day and they follow you,” Williams said of himself, but it also could be extended to Rubio. “At the same time, I subscribe to the concept of less is more. If you have good guys in your gym, you don’t have to tell them what to do all the time. They know.”
Much of our exposure to the Suns this week has been about observing what has been talked about all offseason. There’s no reason to think Williams shouldn’t be able to divide and conquer in his very first day of camp, but nevertheless, the structure all came together Tuesday in just the way Williams wants.