Does this guy know what he's doing or what?
Brad Stevens has been everything I'd imagine Danny Ainge hoped he'd be when he risked signing a mid-major college coach to a pro-level six-year contract.
Without Rajon Rondo to run the offense, Stevens has the Boston Celtics sitting atop the Atlantic Division standings. He's managed to get the most out of each player early on. Jeff Green is playing some solid ball as the team's primary option. Stevens even has Jordan Crawford logging productive minutes at the point.
This is what he does. He's the guy who gets dealt rags, raises the pot and catches his card on the river. It's how he took Butler to back-to-back national championship games. Stevens is known for maximizing the talent and resources he's handed. That's a pretty fitting and promising reputation, given the Celtics' current roster and direction of the team.
Not only is Stevens slick with the clipboard, but his team-management skills are on point.
As a coach, his core strength might actually be recognizing what his players do well and putting them in position to do it within the flow of the offense.
From an Xs and Os standpoint, Stevens' offense at Butler revolved around ball screens, movement and spacing. Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe spoke to Michael Lewis, an assistant coach who spent time with Stevens at Butler. Lewis told Baxter that “It’s a lot of the same stuff with minor tweaks,” referring to the schemes he's now using in Boston.
Stevens finds ways to generate scoring opportunities for teams who don't have enough playmakers capable of creating them on their own. He also has a great feel for what each offensive maneuver will trigger the defense to do.
For example, take a look at this high-ball screen action the Celtics run on the wing. With Crawford on the ball, Stevens puts Avery Bradley in the corner, where he makes the following play just by standing there. Once Crawford (the ball-handler) accelerates over the pick, the corner-shooter's (Bradley) defender has to step into the lane, leaving his man (Bradley) wide open for a catch-and-shoot jumper.
And if the corner-shooter's man doesn't step in to help, Crawford gets an open lane to the rim. They ran the same play successfully against the Denver Nuggets:
You don't need an All-Star like Rajon Rondo to create that open jumper in the corner—not if the players know their roles and their options with each set. Stevens really knows how to milk each supporting cast member for all their worth.
Points in his offense are typically the result of screening, cutting and passing. His schemes put playmakers in space to create, shooters in position to shoot and post scorers in a spot where they can operate away from clutter.
Take a look at this play Stevens ran for his big man Matt Howard at Butler in order to free him up on the low block:
His offensive sets are designed to make it as easy as possible for each player to tap into their strengths. Look how the Celtics completely clear out for Jared Sullinger in the post. His four teammates give him an entire half of the floor to work with, making it a lot easier for Sullinger to operate.
"Still the same basic ideas that lead to winning,” Stevens told Baxter of the Boston Globe. “Just a lot of different ways of getting there."
Stevens' style is a perfect fit for a team without much star power or go-to offensive weapons. They play a brand of team ball that places each player in position to score opportunistically in high-percentage situations.
Check out how balanced Boston's offensive attack is:
|Boston Celtics 2013-14||Shots per Game|
Nobody dominates the ball for the Celtics. This is a group who looks to capitalize on whatever the best scoring opportunity is on that particular possession, regardless of who's getting it.
There's minimal isolation or one-on-one, and when there is, Stevens makes sure it's set up in a sweet spot on the floor.
With the Celtics in need of a bucket to seal a win against the Knicks, Stevens calls for a Jeff Green Iso at the top of the arc. But the key here is the ideal mismatch and spacing. Green has 6'6'' J.R. Smith on him, and with his teammates spread out appropriately, he's got a driving lane the size of the Atlantic Ocean:
Defensively, Stevens' units have always been disciplined and active. They make timely rotations and stand tough in the half court.
So far on the year, the Celtics are ranked No. 9 in the NBA in defensive efficiency, No. 5 in points allowed per game and No. 12 in opponent field-goal percentage.
Stevens is a hands-on guy who coaches both sides of the ball. And based on character, philosophy and track record, he seems like an ideal fit for the Celtics moving forward.
You'd also think he could be a free-agent magnet over the summer, and with a young group and lots of draft picks, his ability to develop and mentor is just another valued quality.
Bringing in Stevens was a risky move by Ainge, given the low success rate of the transition and the rebuilding stage the team is in. But so far, this kid looks like an absolute keeper.
Regardless of his inexperience at the pro level, Stevens just doesn't seem like a guy you'd want to bet against.