Analyzing Boston Celtics' Style of Play Under Brad Stevens

Randolph CharlotinAnalyst IISeptember 6, 2013

Analyzing Boston Celtics' Style of Play Under Brad Stevens

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    Sports Illustrated’s August 26 issue featured an article about new Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. It revealed the background that made him into the coach that he is today.

    It also discussed how he decided to accept the Boston Celtics head coach position after rejecting several offers from marquee college programs and showed a glimpse of the coaching style that produced his highly successful Butler basketball teams.

    That last point requires further examination.

    Stevens accumulated a 166-49 record (.772) in his six years coaching the Bulldogs. He did it with an aggressive approach on both ends of the court that catered to his players.

    Going from college to the pros won’t change Stevens’ approach. Based on the statistics produced by his Butler teams, we can get an idea of what kind of team the Celtics will be while coached by Stevens:

Player-Friendly Offense

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    Many coaches have a style they prefer to play and need the right players to make it work.

    For example, former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl and current Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni want to push the pace and play up-tempo. Indiana’s Jim O’Brien prefers to grind opponents down with defense and a punishing inside-outside offense.

    When these coaches have the right players for their system, success follows.

    But when the players don’t fit, the results are disasterous.

    The 2012-13 Lakers never found a rhythm in D’Antoni’s fast paced offense because it was an older team with big men (Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol) that weren’t fully utilized.

    Stevens will identify what his players do well and put them in position to play to their strengths. If that means taking the ball out of PG Rajon Rondo’s hands to isolate Jeff Green or letting Courtney Lee play some back-up point guard, then that’s what Stevens will do.

    There’s no use in trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

    If Stevens does bring out the best in his players, it will help the Celtics on and off the court. Players playing well typically make the team better, but it also showcases their abilities.

    The Celtics team that starts the season won’t be the same by the end of the season. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will execute a trade or two during the season. If Boston’s players are very productive, Ainge will get more in return.

Defense a Constant

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    While Stevens will be flexible about his offensive approach, he will insist that his Celtics play physical, hard-nosed defense.

    From 2007-08 through 2009-10, Butler’s points per game allowed finished in the top-10 each season. The rankings fell in later years, all the way down to 103rd (out of 347 teams) in 2012-13, though the Bulldogs allowed 63.9 points per game.

    Part of that defensive approach was defending the 3-point line. From 2008-09 through 2011-12, Butler

    Butler Defense Under Stevens

    never was ranked lower than 69th in the nation.

    Combine this along with playing players to their strengths and Bradley will be back to defending the ball for the full length of the court.

    This season he will be joined by Gerald Wallace, another fierce man-to-man defender.

    Between the two, Boston will have the ability to suffocate any wing player and sometimes make floor-spreading power forwards regret leaving the paint.

    When the chemistry clicks, the Celtics could become a team opponents hate playing against.

Offensive Rebounding Encouraged

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    It took Jared Sullinger to sell former coach Doc Rivers on the value of offensive rebounding. In just under 20 minutes per game, the rookie from Ohio State led Boston with two O-boards per game before season-ending back surgery.

    A fully healthy Sullinger won’t have to convince Stevens.

    Rebounding was a strength for the Bulldogs going back to the 2009-10 season. That year Butler ranked 30th in defensive rebounding. They only got better on both ends of the floor in the following years.

    The next season Butler was ranked in the top 50 in offensive, defensive and total rebounding. In 2011-12

     Butler Rebounding Under Stevens
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    the Bulldogs finished 21st in offensive and total rebounding. The numbers slipped in later seasons, but Butler remained imposing on the boards.

    So you can imagine Stevens’ delight to have Sullinger and Kris Humphries to clean the glass.

    Joining them will be rookie Kelly Olynyk, who showed a better than expected appetite for rebounding (particularly offensive rebounds) during the Orlando Summer League.

    Boston ranked last in offensive rebounding for the past four seasons.

    Rivers believes preventing transition points is more important than offensive rebounding. His belief is supportable: the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs were two of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league yet faced off in the NBA Finals. 

    But Boston was a mediocre 3-point shooting team last season, and on paper it looks like they will be worse this season.

    Overall shooting percentage is expected to drop for the Celtics without Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. And if Rondo isn’t around to start the season (as he recovers from surgery to repair a partially torn ACL), that will adversely affect the offense as well.

    If the Celtics struggle offensively as expected bu that gives even more motivation to attack the offensive glass for second or third chances.


    Statistics taken from Questions? Comments? Send to