There aren’t many coaches with a higher approval rating than Brad Stevens. He was well regarded when he was leading a mid-major program to the brink of glory, but the acclaim went up a notch when he joined the Boston Celtics. His early teams succeeded despite a lack of proven talent. Young players seem to improve under his tutelage. What is Stevens doing that makes this all possible?
Brad Stevens was born to be a coach
It’s often said that people are born to do certain professions, but no one lives that saying more than Brad Stevens. Basketball was his first love. He began watching games on tape when he was five years old, and often went to watch the Indiana Hoosiers play with his father.
Stevens played in high school and at DePauw University, but he soon realized that his future in the game was not on the court.
He took on a volunteer position at Butler in the summer of 2000, before putting the work in to become the school’s head coach in 2007. Under his tutelage, the Bulldogs became one of the best mid-major teams in the country.
They made the NCAA Tournament in five of his six years at the helm, and they even made it to the championship game in 2010 and 2011, losing both games narrowly to Duke and Connecticut.
Stevens had shown enough to make himself one of the most sought-after coaches in the game. In 2013, he decided to make the jump to the NBA.
The starless Celtics reach unexpected heights
Stevens chose to join the Boston Celtics as they began their rebuilding process. The Celtics assumed they would be a bad team for years after the end of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce era, but Stevens’ leadership helped the team to quickly begin subverting expectations. After winning 25 games in his first season, Boston hit their stride after trading for Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas had been a decent player up to that point, but he became a superstar for the Celtics. He had a career year in the 2016-17 season, averaging 29 points per game as the team claimed the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas’ success was a great example of what Stevens brings to the table as a coach. His track record shows that he has a way of getting the best out of players who aren’t considered to be especially talented.
Stevens’ demeanor plays a big role in this. No matter the situation, he always maintains a high level of calm that extends out to the players. His teams play hard every night and execute Stevens’ gameplans to the fullest. This is why his inbounds plays after timeouts have developed such a reputation among basketball nerds.
Boston rebounds after a chaotic downturn
The 2017-18 season began with tons of optimism in Boston. The teamed signed Gordon Hayward during free agency and then traded for Kyrie Irving a month later. All of that hype died in the first quarter of the first game when Hayward suffered a grisly leg injury. A few months later, Irving underwent knee surgery which ruled him out for the rest of the year.
Despite the injuries, the Celtics continued to play well. Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown rose in prominence and lead the team to the conference finals, where LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers needed seven games to defeat them.
With both players healthy for the next year, Boston was expected to be even better with them back on the floor. Their return actually made the team worse. Hayward never looked confident in his body, and Irving’s strange personality caused a lot of problems in the locker room.
Players who had performed so well without them were unhappy in smaller roles. Stevens couldn’t get everyone on the same page. The Celtics only won 49 games and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs.
Irving departed as a free agent, as did their starting center Al Horford. Kemba Walker came in to replace Irving, but the improvement of this year’s Celtics can be simplified down to addition by subtraction.
Tatum and Brown have stepped up a level, and role players like Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker are adding important contributions. The rotation is more settled, players are more comfortable in their roles, and the team is ready to play every night. In short, they look like a team coached by Brad Stevens.