Move over Pop, watch out Steve Kerr, there is a new best coach in the NBA, and his name is Brad Stevens. There has never been a 12 game winning streak in October and November that has ever meant so much in the NBA. The Boston Celtics, after being quickly written off after Gordon Hayward’s tragic ankle injury opening night, have consistently been winning games playing team basketball behind the genius of Brad Stevens. Kyrie Irving definitely has had something to do with this, but overall it is Stevens’ ability to adjust to whatever lineup he has available and have the ability to grasp the trust of his players that separates Stevens from the pack.
Before coming to the NBA it was clear to those who follow college basketball closely that Brad Stevens was going to be a star in the game for a long time. After back to back NCAA Championship appearances in 2010 and 2011 with mid-major Butler University, Stevens was becoming a household name in the basketball community. Most coaches take the next step from a mid-major to a Power 5 Conference job, but Stevens jumped right past that step and signed with the Celtics in 2013.
Stevens since coming into the league has been widely recognized as one of the smartest offensive coaches in the league, especially in the half-court. But being able to draw up schemes for players, and have multiple options in a set is only part of the job. The rest of being a coach is gaining the trust of your players, understanding their needs and the team’s needs and being able to put it all together. Stevens has done this gracefully since entering the NBA. Popovich even alluded to this in a quote before playing the Celtics this year, pointing to his emotional maturity and ability to make quick and decisive decisions, when paired with his intelligence is a lethal combination as a coach. Stevens is very calm on the sideline, pointing to the fact that a team will react to a coach’s demeanor. He has been quoted saying that he “does not want a team to lose games because of his approach”. This approach seems to be working well.
Before this year, the Celtics lacked any true superstar. Sure, Isaiah Thomas was a nice player in Sacramento, and Jae Crowder played well in his role, but going from a lottery team to an Eastern Conference Title Contender is not something that is done very easily overnight. Before Stevens, Isaiah Thomas was averaging 15.5 PPG and only averaged 20 PPG once. He got traded from Phoenix to Boston and all of a sudden goes to a 22.1 PPG in his first full season and then all the way up to nearly 29 PPG last season with Stevens and became an MVP candidate.
That is the impact Brad Stevens can have on an individual and on a team. In Stevens first year in 2013-2014 the team went 25-57. They were the 27th best rated offense in the league; also known as being the third worst rated offense in the NBA. Last season the Celtics had 53 wins and were the 8th best rated offense in the league. The turnaround Stevens was able to make in 4 years is remarkable. Brad Stevens is not going anywhere as being the league’s best coach. At just 41 years old, he has decades left of coaching in his future. It may not yet be the Celtics of the past, but Brad Stevens is setting the stage for the Celtics to own the next decade of the Eastern Conference.