5 Key Goals for Monty Williams and New Orleans Hornets
These are several obvious signs that a team eliminated from playoff contention has essentially shut it down and is just playing out the string.
Blatant loafing and lackadaisical play on the court.
Little or no effort on defense.
Players chucking up ill-advised three-point shots early in the shot clock instead of running the offense.
Anyone who has watched NBA basketball long enough will recognize these tell-tale vestiges of a team who has quit on their coach and, frankly, their fans.
But—despite being eliminated early from any thought of playoff contention—you didn't see any of these symptoms with the Hornets last season.
They played hard until the very last game even with a roster depleted by injuries (Eric Gordon) and composed of journeymen players (Marco Belinelli), D-League call-ups (Squeaky Johnson, Lance Thomas) and players who clearly would not be on the roster next season (Chris Kaman).
Even when it would have been beneficial for the Hornets' chances in the draft if they lost, they would pull off an upset, such as their win against the playoff-contending Houston Rockets late last season.
A losing team with no chance of making the playoffs that still plays hard is a sure sign that the players respect and like the head coach. In the case of Monty Williams, the fact that he was only in his second season as a NBA head coach makes the team's effort last season that much more amazing.
In recognition of this, the Hornets announced this weekend that they have signed Williams to a four-year extension, trusting him with the task of developing one of the best young rosters in the Association into a title contender.
The following are five key goals that Williams must accomplish in order to justify the team's faith in him and fulfill his promise as a coach.
Goal No. 1: Develop Young Talent
Williams has the unique opportunity to develop and nurture a young team with two likely future superstars in Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, as well as two other potential star players in Austin Rivers and recently acquired free-agent Ryan Anderson.
All these players are under 25-years-old and all need a strong coach and mentor in order to reach their full potential.
In regard to rookies Davis and Rivers, Williams needs to ensure that these players quickly adjust to the rigors and demands of the NBA.
The advantage to coaching a very young team is that you have an opportunity to teach them the right way to play and establish good habits early on.
The disadvantage is that they will make a lot of mistakes along the way.
Williams must have the patience to work through that inexperience and help this young team mature into a contender.
Goal No. 2: Construct an Offense That Allows Rivers and Gordon to Thrive
The Hornets are intent on transforming No. 10 draft choice Austin Rivers—a natural 2-guard—into a viable attacking point guard in the mold of OKC's Russell Westbrook.
But the fact remains that Rivers' game is very similar to current shooting guard Eric Gordon's in terms of their proclivity and ability to score.
Williams must find a way to incorporate both players' natural scoring aggressiveness into the offense without either player stepping on each others game.
And he has to help Rivers become more of a facilitator than Rivers has been in the past.
This task won't be easy, but Williams needs to find a way to do it.
Goal No. 3: Find a Way to Take Advantage of Anderson's Sharpshooting
Newly-acquired free agent Ryan Anderson is the quintessential Stretch 4—a 6'10" power forward who can flat out shoot the three-pointer.
The problem is that he needs a big man to draw defenses away from him so that he get his looks. Last season with Orlando, Anderson's offense suffered greatly when center Dwight Howard was injured and opponents' defenses no longer had to collapse under the basket.
Obviously, the Hornets don't have a big man of the caliber of Howard to draw defenses in and leave Anderson open on the perimeter.
So Williams needs to find another way to get Anderson his shots.
Goal No. 4: Establish a Defensive Identity
Williams has preached defense the last two years and now with Anthony Davis he has a potentially elite shot blocker.
Williams needs to use Davis and guard Eric Gordon—a very good defender in his own right—to establish a defensive identity that will inspire the team to get those crucial stops when they have to.
As demonstrated over and over again, to be an NBA champion you have to be able to defend.
The Hornets have the potential with Davis and Gordon to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. Williams needs to make sure the team meets this defensive potential.
Goal No. 5: Continue to Motivate the Hornets to Play Hard
As previously discussed, the Hornets played incredibly hard last year despite their hopeless situation.
This season is also probably going to be one without a trip to the playoffs; the Hornets are just too young and inexperienced to be a real threat.
So, Williams needs to teach this young team the value and importance of playing hard and giving effort every night, even without a playoff berth on the line.
This is a lesson that will definitely pay off down the line as effort and energy often is the determinative factor between winning a championship and an early exit from the playoffs.