Coaching Supreme: Brad Stevens And The Rejuvenated Celtics

Jan 30, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (right) speaks to guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half of a game against the Houston Rockets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (right) speaks to guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half of a game against the Houston Rockets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Let’s get the hyperbole out of the way first: Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens will not come close to winning the Coach of the Year award. He might have won it in another season, but Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer has submitted one of the best coaching performances in years.

But in a season where no one expected them to make the playoffs, Boston is now just 1.5 games back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have won four of their last five games and seven of their last 10, including a 95-92 win over the Memphis Grizzlies without top scorer Isaiah Thomas.

As Avery Bradley said, it all starts with Brad Stevens. Maybe Stevens has not been as good as Budenholzer or Steve Kerr in surprising the rest of the league. But he is up there with any other coach.

Of course, one must ask how Stevens has been a good coach. Coaching is an extremely difficult thing to measure. It is easy to tell that Gregg Popovich is a very good coach and that Ty Corbin and Jacque Vaughn were very bad coaches. But what about everyone in between?

We can start by looking at this play against Memphis:

Down two points with less than a minute left, Stevens draws up an alley-oop which scores and draws the foul. Many coaches at this point in the game would just draw up an iso for their best offensive player and let him go to work. But Stevens is different.

And that has not been the only time Stevens drew up a great out-of-bounds play.  A few weeks ago against the surging Utah Jazz, Stevens drew up a pass to Tyler Zeller that won the game in just 1.7 seconds. When Haralabos Voulgaris praises a coach for his play-calling ability, you know that you have a great coach.

However, the ability to draw up plays is actually not the most important thing a NBA coach can do. It is the ability to keep a locker room filled with volatile, competitive NBA players under control.

Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach are not famous for any one great play which they drew up. But before Michael Jordan met Phil Jackson, he was a hothead who had not found the balance between playing winning basketball and dominating his opponents by scoring all the points. Phil’s triangle helped Jordan find that balance.

So how good is Stevens at managing the locker room and developing young players? He is excellent. Bradley and Thomas have praised Stevens to the sky. Evan Turner continues to struggle offensively, but his defensive effort has improved.

According to the New England Sports Network, everyone in the Celtics locker room has praised Stevens for how he has managed to get the Celtics to act like a family.

Keeping the locker room together is always difficult when a team is losing as much as Boston has. And it is even more impressive when you consider Boston’s roster turnover. Four of the 10 players Stevens used on opening night are no longer on the team.

Jae Crowder went from a Dallas Mavericks team looking for a championship to a Celtics team that will not win it all this year. Jonas Jerebko was traded after playing for the Detroit Pistons for five seasons. Thanks to Stevens, those two players have adjusted to become key contributors for this Boston playoff run.

At the end of the day, Boston’s players are not more talented than Detroit, Brooklyn, or even Orlando. Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe would all be the best player on the Celtics, and the Pistons have a very good coach in Stan Van Gundy.

But the reality is that a Celtics team with no rim protection and not much talent has a better shot than those aforementioned teams at reaching the playoffs. They traded their longtime star in Rajon Rondo as well as Jeff Green, lost Jared Sullinger to injury, and were widely expected to tank for a high lottery pick.

The Celtics players disagree. Brad Stevens disagrees. They think they have enough talent and youth to accomplish something in the NBA. And as long as the Celtics continue to rally around their great coach and Stevens draws up great plays, there is no reason to think that they are wrong.

Next: NBA: 50 Greatest Players Of All Time

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