Monty Williams makes pre-draft workouts about the players

By Ashley Nevel

When Monty Williams stepped up to the podium and addressed media for the first time in Phoenix, he talked about what he learned as a coach since he began coaching in 2005. His career started in Portland as an assistant and he would eventually move up to head coach with the Pelicans where he mentored stars like Chris Paul and eventually Anthony Davis. His biggest takeaway was learning how to provide constructive criticism without being too harsh.

“I think as I’ve evolved as a coach I understand the difference between telling someone the truth and embarrassing them and that was one of my flaws in New Orleans,” Monty said. “My truth telling at times could embarrass players and that was something I had to deal with.”

This time around, the pre-draft guys noticed a different Monty. A guy who is fun and patient but also holds his players accountable.

“Just his energy,” Nevada’s Cody Martin said of what separated Monty from other coaches. “Trying to feel us out but at the same time letting us play and have fun.”

Monty bases his coaching style off of service hood and what he can do for the players. He genuinely wants to put the people he works with in a position to succeed and that even goes for all of the NBA draft prospects even if they don’t end up with the Suns.

”You can tell that’s what he loves to do and he wants to teach everyone and allow them to get the opportunity to learn whether they play for this team or somewhere else,” Cody said. “I think that it shows that he genuinely cares about, number one basketball and two just informing the guys that do come here and making sure they’re taking something with then when they leave.”

Most coaches aren’t as hands on during these workouts. They typically observe from the sidelines and interject when needed but Monty was actually going through drills and taking time to stop and explain whenever there was a mistake. Martin, a 6’7” small forward from Nevada, tested the NBA waters last year but decided to go back to college. He noticed a lot of differences between this year’s draft process from last year’s.

“I can take what he taught me here and take that to my next workout or whatever the case is or wherever I end up,” Cody said. “I think a lot of time teams just want to bring you in to see how you are on your own and figure it out and how you interact with your teammates and with the staff.”

That’s what happened to him last year and he felt like the workouts weren’t about how the team can make the players better but more so what the players can do for the team. He felt a different type of energy with Monty, an energy any player would want from a head coach. Monty is practicing what he preaches. At the Suns press conference, he also mentioned how he would coach Devin Booker.

”I want Devin to be Devin,” Monty said. “I got to keep it simple for Devin. He has the ability to play a number of ways.”

The gist of what he was saying was, he wants to let Devin do what Devin does while also providing guidance and implementing strategies that can improve his game and the team as a whole.

The same was true at the predraft workouts. He was hands on, but also gave the players their space to be to play their game and learn as they go.

“I think a lot of times in these environments they just want you to play and let you figure it out,” Cody said. “And they (the Suns) let us do that to a certain extent here but they also teach and stop us and we’re learning along the way.”

Another element to Monty’s coaching style is his silliness which allowed players to feel more comfortable and play freely.

“He said some funny things in the process of the workout and calling people out cheating like hey young buck, don’t look back and I’m like oops, my bad I didn’t mean to,” Grant Williams said with a smile. “And certain things like that where those goofy type of traits you see but he is also disciplined in understanding that each details matters.”

The 6’7” forward out of Tennessee was named SEC Player of the Year for two consecutive years. He is also known for his goofiness but is all about business on the court. It’s about finding the balance. Monty has that and it’s something Grant respects a lot.

“He’s going to push you because he feels like competing and he’ll call you out if you cheat at something and that’s something that you want from a head coach,” Grant said. “You want somebody who is that hands on and dedicated.”

This is the culture James Jones is trying to build within the Suns organization. A place of fun, discipline, and allowing players to be who they are. Both James and Monty played in the NBA for a number of years so they can relate to these guys on a personal level. They get it. They understand the process and what goes into being a true professional and competing at the highest level.

“He’s a players coach,” St. John’s guard Justin Simon said. “He has been in our shoes before and he’s telling it like how he would want it for him to be heard a message like that so learning from him was good.”

Connection is another piece to the puzzle for this ball club, something they lacked last season. Monty builds strong relationships with everyone he meets and even if a player isn’t on his roster, Monty will still treat him as one of his own.

“It speaks to the environment that we’re trying to create,” Suns GM James Jones said. “You want to create an environment where everyone, whether they’re a free agent, if they’re a draftee, if they’re your guys on your team, you want them to feel like they walk away from the gym everyday with something and so that’s our goal.”

For the Suns, their message is clear: It’s not what the players can do for them. It’s what the Suns can do to help develop those players into the professionals their meant to be.

Phoenix is in good shape with both Monty and James leading the way and it’s already obvious that guys like Booker and Deandre Ayton are going to learn a lot from a guy like Monty.

The Suns host two more days of predraft workouts with a focus on finding a stretch four and point guard, although James specified that they are looking for basketball players, first and foremost. Not necessarily honed into a particular position but guys that can play.