What Frank Vogel can learn from the Suns’ previous coaching staff

Apr 10, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel signals in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel signals in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

In an offseason that was marked by extreme change, one of the biggest moves the Phoenix Suns made was firing Monty Williams. Williams had an extremely successful run as the Suns’ head coach, but his inability to get the team over the hump ultimately forced the team’s hand.

New leading man Frank Vogel and his staff can learn a lot from where the previous coaching staff came up short, both on and off the court, and seek to improve on those weaknesses.

One such weakness was Williams’ unwillingness, or possibly inability, to adjust. He consistently came up with great game plans which allowed the Suns to build leads and stay competitive early on in playoff series. However, as series wore on and the opposing coaches adjusted, Williams did little to alter his strategy.

Luckily, Vogel is known for his adjustments, particularly on the defensive end. He’s constantly throwing out various looks and not letting stars get comfortable.

He won’t sit ideally by when opponents start to adjust, which is critical when facing cerebral players like Nikola Jokić and Lebron James. Monty’s reluctance to adjust didn’t just affect his game planning; it also affected his rotations.

Williams’ insistence on featuring Landry Shamet in a big role was a constant source of ire amongst Suns’ fans, especially when he didn’t give newcomers like T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross that same leeway. It was actually an assistant coach that pushed Monty to finally give Warren a look, which paid off immediately.

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On a team with so many new faces in the supporting cast, Vogel can’t afford to make that same mistake. He’s going to have to experiment a lot in the early season to find which role players deserve the most minutes. He also can’t play favorites in that regard, and will have to be ready to switch it up if something isn’t working.

Williams’ biggest failure as a coach though, may have been the deterioration of the relationship between himself and Deandre Ayton. What once seemed like a strong mentor-mentee connection, was soured after a few publicized spats on the bench.

Those incidents sandwiched an offseason in which Williams failed to reach out to Ayton during his free agency. While both parties are to blame for it reaching that point, it’s completely unacceptable for a coach to not reach out and try to mend the relationship after a public fallout.

The broken partnership seemed like it affected Ayton’s play as he had a down year and looked unmotivated at times. And while it’s easy to point to Ayton’s max contract figure and say that he should be bought in no matter what, any athlete will tell you that it’s not easy playing for someone you think doesn’t want you there.

Luckily, Vogel seems to know this and has already begun to lay the foundation for a strong working relationship. He’s constantly gone out of his way to praise Ayton in interviews, and given his success with big men in the past, it doesn’t seem hollow. Ayon will play as big a role as ever for the Suns this year, and Vogel will be key to getting the most out of him.

In addition to the off-court mending Vogel has to do, the Suns coaching staff has to devise a better plan to keep Ayton involved on offense during games. One of the ways to keep Ayton involved that we’ve covered is to stagger his minutes.

It’ll allow him to get time as the second option instead of being relegated to solely a screen-setter when playing next to Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal. Aside from Ayton, staggering is going to play a huge role for the other Suns’ stars this season.

One of the issues in the playoffs last year was that there were too many moments where Booker was surrounded by four bench players. This wasn’t Monty’s fault by any stretch as the Chris Paul injury made it tough to always keep two of his main guys on the floor.

Now with Beal in the mix, there should never be a single second in which two of he, Booker, Durant, and Ayton aren’t on the floor in the playoffs. This will allow the bench players to stay within their roles as supporting players, and not be forced to do too much, which was a problem in the past.

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It’ll also allow the Suns main players to get some valuable rest, as it’ll be a lot easier to hold onto leads. Furthermore, given the lack of a true point guard on the bench, it’ll be paramount to break up Booker and Beal’s minutes, so that one of them can always shoulder the playmaking load.

It’s always a tough decision to fire a coach, especially one that was as successful as Williams was. Targeting someone like Vogel who excels in all the areas Williams lacked made it a lot easier. If Vogel and his staff are able to shore up those issues, the sky’s the limit.