Lakers in Phoenix reunites Anthony Davis with former HC Monty Williams
PHOENIX — For a head coach like Monty Williams who has been around the league long enough, there’s a familiar face for him to run into for just about every team the Phoenix Suns take on this season.
Tuesday will be no different when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town, but one of the most important players in his coaching journey visits in Anthony Davis.
Williams’ five-year stint as the head coach in New Orleans was his lone top job prior to Phoenix, and the tail-end involved Davis, one of the NBA’s best talents this decade.
After Williams’ first season saw the then-Hornets win 46 games and make the playoffs led by Chris Paul, they went through a rebuild and Williams’ team landed the No. 1 pick and Davis in his third year running the squad.
From there, it was three years for Williams and Davis together that included a trip to the playoffs in 2015.
It’s easy to see it through the lens of Williams as the coach for a promising young player, which he obviously was. But Williams has another view of it because of how unique his time was with Davis.
As a part of Team USA, Williams got to coach Davis to a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics before Davis even played a game for New Orleans and then again in 2014 at the FIBA World Cup, where they won another gold medal together. That time and everything that came with the head coach-star player relationship is, from the sound of it, what Williams carries with him the most.
“I had so many cool times with him from making the playoffs to building a program, the World Cup, being with him at the Olympics — just a good dude, unreal talent,” Williams said after practice on Tuesday.
“We had a lot of good talks off the floor. Having him over to the house, talking about stuff outside of basketball really helped me.”
Davis was already a two-time All-Star under Williams but has since been ascending, spending the past two-plus seasons as an undoubted top 10 player and some will now even claim top-five in Los Angeles.
To put a stamp on how outstanding and unique of a player Davis is, he is currently in his fourth straight season of averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game.
The last player to do that even once was Shaquille O’Neal in the 2002-03 season, and Davis joins O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo as the names to do it three seasons in a row. And for something to watch with Davis’ dominance, none of those guys have done it five years in a row, which is a good time in our program to remind you that Davis is still only 26 years old.
So just to make sure we recap on the absurdity of that, AD and Shaq were once-in-a-generation big men that we’ve only seen consistent iterations of twice in the past 25 years.
That’s why when you even ask Williams about the player Davis is now, there’s a certain level of matter-of-factness to his tone that it’s obvious what we’re dealing with here.
“Same thing you guys think — he’s a video game waiting to happen,” he said. “The numbers he puts up are crazy. What people don’t realize is the hard work that went into the changing of his body, his game — just being able to knock down shots. I think he’s trying to expand his range to the three-point line.
“Just watching him over the years just work and work and build the program in New Orleans to the point where we did get to the playoffs. Behind the scenes, he just put in a ton of work. One of the most coachable guys I had ever been around. Anything I asked him to do he did it.”
There are clear parallels between Williams’ time with Davis and Deandre Ayton. Both are hyper-talented big men that went No. 1 overall and Williams got them both while there was still serious molding left to be done.
And hearing how Williams talks about Davis’ coachability is something he’s sure to mention about Ayton too, plus what he said originally about Davis in the early stages of the great big man’s career.
“He was 15 years old when I got him,” Williams joked, a similar joke he has made about Ayton. “He was a young kid, just wide-eyed, did everything we asked him to do. He was (an) unreal pro at a young age. We learned a lot having Anthony, how to develop high-level talent and I really enjoyed my talent with AD.”
Williams has been able to take things from that experience into how he coaches and develops Ayton, who Williams is seen having long conversations with after practice while Ayton remains suspended.
“It’s taught me to be patient,” he said. “Deandre is similar to AD in that they have so many expectations on them that are a bit out of hand and you can help them manage those expectations. You know you’re going to see brilliance at times and sometimes you’re going to see room for development.
“And you have that reference point with guys like Anthony.”