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Detroit Pistons: Three Key Beneficiaries Under Monty Williams

May 9, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams looks on in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets during game five of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Monty Williams made history Wednesday night, signing a six-year, $72 million contract on the Detroit Pistons’ dotted line and cementing both parties’ futures in an arguable match made in heaven. Though the deal will become official in the coming days, it’s worth examining parts of the Pistons that will benefit the most under a head coach that helped the Phoenix Suns to recent success.

Detroit Pistons: Three Key Beneficiaries Under Monty Williams

Monty Williams’s Time with Phoenix

Williams began his tenure with the Suns in 2019 when Phoenix was fresh from a 19-win season. The growth since his hire was evident, as Williams helped increase Phoenix’s win total to 34 in his first year, then to 51 before the aforementioned 64 in 2021. He was also critical in boosting the Suns’ play on both ends of the floor. Before his arrival, Phoenix ranked near the bottom of the barrel in offensive and defensive ratings—27th and 28th, respectively. By the peak of his time in the Valley, the Suns had not only 64 wins but also top-ten finishes in offense (117.2, 5th) and defense (111.3, 9th) before their Finals run. In his final season, Williams took Phoenix—eventually led by Booker and Kevin Durant—to a 45-37 record in the West, finishing with the 14th-best offense and 7th-best defense.

Williams was able to develop and maximize the potential of Booker, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cameron Johnson, and DeAndre Ayton. Now, he looks to accomplish the same goals in a new environment with a familiar face. Williams and Pistons, GM Troy Weaver crossed paths working for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, with Williams as an assistant coach and Weaver as the assistant GM.

The Backcourt

Aside from other young players who have served their roles well, such as Jalen Duren, James Wiseman, Isaiah Stewart, and Killian Hayes, the key Pistons benefiting from Williams’s presence will be the tandem of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.

After his sophomore campaign ended abruptly with shin surgery, Cunningham is looking to lead the way for the up-and-coming Pistons. With Williams’s guidance, he has solid potential to have a breakout season. The 21-year-old averaged nearly 20 points and six assists per game in 12 contests on 41-28-83 splits. As the prime facilitator for the Pistons, Cunningham—who was responsible for 30% of the teams’ assists this season—will continue to be surrounded by other young talents, including the team’s fifth overall pick this draft. After months of recovery, Cunningham should make the leap next season, developing his playmaking and scoring to help the Pistons succeed.

Ivey, a two-way talent, will also thrive under Williams’s direction, developing his craft as a three-level scorer. As a rookie, he averaged 16.3 points on 41% shooting from the field, 34% from deep, and 74% from the free-throw line. He also put up 3.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. Ivey looks destined for a standout sophomore campaign, with the opportunity to carve out a larger role in Detroit’s offense while continuously improving his defense.

Williams has excelled at player development in the past. Leaning into Cunningham and Ivey will make for a stellar backcourt that can lead Detroit into an already promising future.

The Shooting

As Daniel Benjamin outlined recently, the Pistons have their work cut out for them this offseason, primarily on the offensive end. He noted that Detroit’s 45.4% shooting from the field was dead last in the league, and their three-point and free-throw shooting was also in the bottom third. However, Williams’ track record suggests his coaching style can pull Detroit out of their shooting slump.

Amid Phoenix’s offensive improvement, the Suns also increased their shooting percentages from the field (49%, 2nd in the NBA), three-point range (37.8%, 7th best), and the free-throw line (83.4%, also 2nd) in the 2020-21 season under Williams. Undoubtedly, he can do the same with Detroit, especially given their talent across the board.

 Aside from the young core, the Pistons have veteran offensive spark plugs in Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdanovic, proven perimeter scorers whose contributions didn’t go unnoticed despite the team’s poor marksmanship from three. They also have Isaiah Livers, who is considered the team’s lone three-and-D wing and could grow into a solid rotational player. Players like them are already solid fits within Detroit’s offense, and Williams will have to find ways to ensure they’re all good fits in his system.

The Culture

Above all, Monty Williams is a perfect addition to the Pistons’ growing culture. His coaching philosophy was explained in a 2021 article from Kent Somers of AZ Central. It all boils down to the idea of “service.”

Williams explained the philosophy in his own words: “I hope that when our players are around our staff, and in particular me, they know I’m here to serve them in any way that I can…I want to help them win games, but I want to do it in a way that allows them to think, ‘That guy cares about me. He cares about my family. He cares about me as a person.'”

Equally important to Williams’s philosophy is accountability, which is critical for a young group that wants to rise to the top.

Williams has a multitude of phrases for certain situations, such as, “‘Get to,’ not ‘got to'” when it comes to humility and “I’m calling you up, not calling you out” when referring to criticism. Players that Somers interviewed began to take notice of those mantras early in Williams’s tenure, including veteran Chris Paul, who has had his share of head coaches in his 18-year career.

It was really cool because when he does get on guys, he’s just letting you know, ‘I want you to be better.'” Paul said.

Those two aspects of Williams’s style—service and accountability—are equally vital for a franchise that has experienced many highs and lows in their 65 seasons. For a roster that wants to charge back onto the main stage, those two tenets are key in Detroit’s culture shift, all part of a new direction that could result in some waves made down the road.


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