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Bright Side of the Sun weighs in: How has coach Monty Williams performed this season?

Our staff offered their take on how the Phoenix Suns’ coach has been in 2022-23

Phoenix Suns v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams has been the catalyst of one of the best stretches in franchise history, crossing calendar years 2020-2022.

But despite his past success, Phoenix is in the midst of a disastrous streak in which it has lost nine of 10 games and 15 of 20 since a 15-6 start. The fall-down has been caused by injuries/absences to all of the top 7 rotation players at various times. The team out there on Sunday night against the Cavaliers looked more like a 2018 version of the Suns than anything Williams has had to play since he arrived in 2019.

It has not been what the Suns hoped for in a season in which they are still trying to maximize a championship window with starting point guard Chris Paul, who is 37 years old and will turn 38 in May, and superstar guard Devin Booker entering his prime. But Phoenix can still turn things around if it can utilize the upcoming trade deadline and find ways to manufacture success – preferably through improved play from starting forward Mikal Bridges or starting center Deandre Ayton – with Booker out through January with a groin strain.

With the Suns on a recent skid, the Bright Side of the Sun staff polled how Williams has performed in his fourth season with the team.

Trevor Booth: One of the best team-oriented coaches in all of basketball, Williams has gathered plenty of principles as a former player under San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, along with defensive concepts from current Atlanta Hawks and former Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan and playoff experience from Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers. All of those experiences have played out with the Suns, who have benefited with a Finals appearance and their best regular-season in franchise history.

However, Williams’ offense has tended to maximize his guards, Booker and Paul, and not the team as a whole. Bridges has flourished as a catch-and-shoot player and cutter in Phoenix’s system as has Ayton with the pick-and-roll. Williams has said his system is designed for players to expand it but neither has grown, especially with a chance to do so with Booker out.

Williams is the coach for the Suns and he has proven as such. He has not been helped necessarily by general manager James Jones’ idleness to change the team, and you’d have to imagine there’s still some friction between Williams and Ayton. Phoenix will have to make some personnel changes to benefit Williams this season.

Kyle Glazier: This answer surprises even me somewhat, but on the whole I believe Monty has done a reasonably good job this season. Not perfect, but hardly the abysmal failure some are making it out to be.

I’m not saying the Suns’ head coach couldn’t have made a couple of adjustments long ago to try to get Deandre Ayton more engaged in the offense. And folks can argue until the end of time about who is playing too many minutes, who isn’t playing enough, and what have you. I can’t offer powerful arguments on those questions.

But it strikes me as a little unrealistic to expect a coach to somehow transform his fourth option offensively-limited small forward into any kind of approximation of Devin Booker. And while I acknowledge that he could try to make Ayton a focal point more, nobody can point to more than perhaps one game this season where Ayton aggressively looked to score as often as he could have. Any Monty can hardly control that.

Lastly, as much as I’ve read some comments about Monty “losing the locker room,” the Suns have largely stayed positive and tried to fight through this stretch. We’ve seen Suns teams quit on Earl Watson and Igor Kokoskov, and this doesn’t look like that. And Monty deserves credit there.

Those calling for Monty’s head: take heart. With new ownership comes changes. It won’t shock me if anything short of an NBA title means Monty is out of a job.

Stephen PridGeon-Garner: Monty Williams has had the most peculiar deck at hand in the coaching realm this season. His best weapon deployed - and banked on for that matter - has been continuity. The Suns have had the most impactful and sustained volume of main rotation minutes lost to injury (or other, in the case of one Jae Crowder) across the NBA. Having been without at least one of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson, or Jae Crowder for the duration of the season thus far is far from ideal.

With that in mind, plus the Suns having had the all-impressive start, from the start of the season to the end of November (first 21 games) they enjoyed the third-best record in the NBA, the best record in the NBA, and had ratings of 116.5 offensively (2nd), 109.1 defensively (109.1), and a net rating of 7.4 (2nd).

Williams was captaining the ship of yet another group that was an undeniable contender, even while incomplete sans multiple main rotation players as well as a conclusion to the Crowder situation looming unresponded to.

In that same window, they also enjoyed a top-10 half-court offense (98.0/100 plays on offense - 10th, and 94.0/100 plays on defense - 6th), a feat shared only by the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New Orleans Pelicans at that time.

To do so so early in the season speaks to exactly what this team was building towards when as close to whole as they’ve been. In a season where the field of contention is as open as any, where the Suns certainly shouldn't be phased by matching up with any team in the Western Conference in a seven-game series, Monty has done as solid a job as feasibly possible. Hasn’t been perfect, but he has another Coach of the Month award under his belt, indicative of how well he’s performed.

Yes, he could better prioritize Ayton’s touches in this injury-riddled rendition (though Ayton could also better assert himself), and implore for more from Bridges the same, offensively. However, looking at this season as a whole, they're still upholding the standard and culture amidst unparalleled roster adversity. That alone would give him an A- from me.

Dave King: Look, I’m not a coach myself so I can’t truly comment on Monty’s fit as head coach in the NBA. I’m not one of those ‘that move didn’t work so he’s an idiot’ hindsight people.

Here’s what I can do. I can look at what other NBA coaches think of Monty Williams, and I see that they collectively named him their own Coach of the Year in the 2020-21 via the coaches’ poll voting. Then a year later, the media voted Monty as Coach of the Year for the 2021-22 season. Not all those voting media are good at evaluating coaches, but most of them are probably better than I am. And finally, THIS season Monty was given Coach of the Month through November 2022, as determined by the NBA’s league office. So that’s fellow coaches, media and league office personnel all saying he’s a good coach. So, I will conclude that he’s a good coach. Maybe not top-five overall, but definitely a very good one.

So really if we’re picking nits, it’s about the last five weeks. In that time, his best player has been injured (Devin Booker), his third and fourth best players are playing injured (Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul were playing through injuries), and a handful of others are out injured too. And he’s had to absorb the loss of Jae Crowder out of nowhere.

After Sunday’s game, in which Deandre Ayton re-rolled his left ankle, the whole top end of the roster is now in flux.

Remember when Steve Kerr of the Warriors won only 15 games the year Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were both out injured? And even then, he still had two reigning All-Stars in D’Angelo Russell and Draymond Green to try to win games with. And he still won only 15 games. Did that make Kerr a bad coach? No.

Williams is not perfect. He’s stubborn with rotations, always has a favorite that plays poorly no matter how much chance he gives them, and hasn’t been able to re-envision an offense on the fly that’s centered around a big man.

I’d still give him a B for his work this year, even with all the struggles.

Damon Allred: I’ve truthfully been a bit annoyed by Monty Williams lately, and that’s not something I would’ve seen coming ahead of the season. There’s something to be said about the Monty-isms sounding a lot better when the W’s are pouring in, but this season I feel like I’ve heard a lot of the same sentiments without things tangibly changing.

There’s also something to be said about the Deandre Ayton situation. Obviously we’re mostly past the whole “not talking over the entire summer” deal, but it’s still a little crazy in retrospect to me. Maybe some more effort ought to have been put in if this is a partnership that’s going to last, and it could be the reason some of his imploring has fallen on deaf ears with Ayton’s never-ending lack of aggression.

The other obvious point is that Williams was dealt a really tough hand this season between Robert Sarver, Jae Crowder, the numerous missed games due to injury, and given the set of circumstances, he’s done a good job in keeping the boat afloat (though a lot of that can be attributed to Devin Booker).

Thinking a strong C+ to a light B- for a grade for the season as we approach the midway point of the regular season.

What say you, Suns fans?


What grade do you give Monty Williams so far this season?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    (12 votes)
  • 33%
    (86 votes)
  • 35%
    (91 votes)
  • 18%
    (49 votes)
  • 7%
    (20 votes)
258 votes total Vote Now

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