Brad Stevens – Baptism by Fire

With half of the season in the history books, we look at how Brad Stevens has performed in his first NBA season so far.

Celtics Hire Brad Stevens as Head Coach – Press release from the Boston Celtics, July 3rd, 2013

Living in Australia and following the NBA almost religiously meant that the college game has never really been high on my priority list (except in a season like the current where Boston look to be a lottery player).  So when the Celtics announced that they had signed Brad Stevens, my reaction was – who?  I thought that the next Celtics coach was Brett Brown, one of Pop’s main guys in San Antonio, and an ex-Australian Boomer national coach.  It wasn’t until further information and stories regarding his decorated college career started coming out, coupled with one of the first things he did as head coach that got me giddy about the signing.  I was impressed with coach Stevens at his introductory press conference – showing maturity beyond his years, poise, and an abundance of knowledge.

How would that equate in his transition from the college game to the pros though?  This is what everyone asked, and rightfully so after the failed Rick Pitino experiment that left so many Celtics fans (including myself) extremely bitter.  After a long line of college-to-pro coaching failures, there were certainly doubts about Stevens’ ability to be able to coach at the NBA level, with major differences both in-game rules/timing and player personnel.

Like Rick Pitino, Brad Stevens was one of the best college coaches going around prior to signing with Boston. The difference between the two situations was that Pitino was given the keys to run the franchise to the ground and coach, whilst Stevens can just focus on coaching and let Danny Ainge take care of personnel.  The relationship between the GM and coach is extremely important for any basketball franchise – why get players that would not fit into the coaches style and vice versa?  Championship #17 came with Danny and Doc collaborating perfectly together through a rebuild, now Danny is hoping for the same magic with Stevens as they share the same philosophy on scouting talent: using advanced stats and analytical data to best determine a players worth and how they can be used.

Brad+Danny

Coach Stevens’ inaugural NBA season has been anything but smooth as he has had to deal with a multitude of issues, which include:

The Piling Losses
The Celtics are on track to lose more games this season than what Stevens would have lost in 6 years at Butler – ouch.  This is all part of the ‘plan’ given the way that the roster is constructed.  Still, at only the halfway point of the season, the team has already endured 3 losing streaks with 4 or more games and that has to take its toll with both the coaching panel, and the players.  Stevens however, has been extremely patient with his young ball club, and preaches growth from each player game by game rather than living and dying in the W-L column – an approach that the players have embraced.  Despite the lack of top end talent on the roster, the players have played extremely hard for him – just look at a game recap from any of their losses where the common theme is the resiliency and fight that this team has.

Imbalanced Roster
The roster that Coach Stevens inherited was quite simply put, a mess.  He had 4 power forwards that deserved minutes, with the only true centre being a rookie and an unknown import. He also had 5 shooting guards that deserved minutes, with the only one true point guard being an undrafted rookie.  The logjam at the shooting guard position caused some friction with Courtney Lee, Keith Bogans and even MarShon Brooks, who all at different times in the season, voiced their displeasure to the media regarding their lack of playing time.  On top of all this, Rondo – the best player and final link to the Celtics’ last championship – sat out the first half of the season.

By empowering his young players and showing confidence in them, we have seen some of our youngsters take a giant leap forward, showing both improved play and leadership qualities.  His calm demeanour is something that his players certainly value highly.

Stubborn Veterans
One of the main questions asked after the hiring of Stevens was announced was how would he get along with Rondo?  Known for being extremely stubborn, being linked in altercations with both coaches and even former team mates, media pundits wondered out loud whether Rondo would will be moved.  Almost immediately after Stevens joined the Celtics, he reached out to Rondo by visiting his summer camp – by Stevens’ willingness to reach out to Rondo, they have forged a great relationship with Rondo going as far as saying that they are ‘best friends’.

To date, Stevens has proven himself more than capable of the task at hand, surprising the league with a surge early in the season that saw the Celtics atop the Atlantic division.  Even after a large win or loss, the players know that they cannot get stuck on the one game for very long, which is something he has drilled in to each and every person.

“You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from both sides” – Brad Stevens, December the 9th, 2013 after beating the Knicks by 41 @ Madison Square Garden.

In a season that has seen so much change, Brad Stevens has proved to be the correct man to rebuild the Celtics – with both Stevens and Ainge at the helm, I have no doubt that the team is in great hands and will return to glory sooner rather than later.  What do you think of Brad Stevens?  Has he lived up to expectations so far, or has he been a disappointment, do you think he is the next great coach?

Here’s a bonus video on my personal favourite Brad Stevens moment of the season.  This is his reaction after Jeff Green hit a miracle 3 pointer with 0.6 of a second left against the defending champs in their own building.

- Dave

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  1. […] Stevens has been thrown many curveballs in his first season in the NBA, and has been able to navigate his way through all the surprises […]

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