What Makes Celtics’ Coach Brad Stevens So Awesome

The Boston Celtics had a very successful season. And when one tries to honor a single person responsible for Boston’s remarkable turnaround, it normally falls to Brad Stevens. Stevens is smart, gets along well with the locker room, and has been compared to Gregg Popovich for his ability to draw up plays. Who can forget Stevens’s creativity in this Tyler Zeller game-winner?

So, Stevens is a good coach. But how much does that matter? And how much do coaches matter in the NBA in general?

The reality is that while coaches are hired and fired at the drop of a hat, there is evidence that the importance of coaching is overstated. In 2012, the Houston Rockets replaced Rick Adelman with Kevin McHale. Adelman is commonly viewed as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. McHale is not. However, the Rockets finished with a similar record in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

Another example is former Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Rivers joined the Clippers for the 2013-14 season and replaced Vinny Del Negro, a coach who was supposed to be one of the worst in the NBA. The transition from Del Negro to Rivers was the move which would propel the Clippers to a championship.

But instead, the Clippers went from winning 56 games under Del Negro to 57 games under Rivers – only a one game improvement. And let us not forget that before the Kevin GarnettPaul PierceRay Allen trio came to Boston, Rivers himself was viewed as an incompetent coach.

In short, we judge coaches far too often by how many wins they get instead of looking at what they’re doing for the team as a whole. This is the reason that the Coach of the Year award these days is basically a “Most Improved Team” award.

None of this is to suggest that you or I could coach a NBA team. It is to suggest that outside of a special elite few, going from one coach to the next will not drastically improve a team. Most coaches have similar basketball backgrounds, similar training, and fairly similar plays. It is not surprising then to suggest that the results may be similar as well.

There are unqualified coaches who will make your team worse – such as Kurt Rambis, who tried to build the Minnesota Timberwolves around Darko Milicic instead of Kevin Love. And there are elite coaches like Popovich. But if you do not have one of those few, there is little difference from one coach to the next.

An example of the difference between a mediocre coach and a bad coach is the recent playoff series between the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors. Wizards coach Randy Wittman is known for his unimaginative offense which has been compared to a clogged toilet.

In a league where the three-point shot is more important than ever, Wittman has a bizarre obsession with mid-range jump shots.

But even Wittman coached circles around Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Casey’s offense is even less imaginative, as he relies on his good but not great guards to iso. He also employed a terrible defensive strategy against John Wall. Casey tried to hedge and trap one of the best ball handlers and passers in the NBA, and Wall took advantage to rack up some incredible assist totals.

The Wizards front office have used this playoff victory to praise Wittman, but the reality remains that he is a poor, old-fashioned coach. He was just up against an even worse one. The Wizards would be no worse off if they replaced Wittman with Kevin McHale, or Monty Williams, or most of the mediocre coaches which make up the NBA.

So what about Brad Stevens? Where does he fall into this?

Fortunately for Celtics fans, the answer should be positive. Brad Stevens may be younger than Tim Duncan, but he is one of those few coaches who unquestionably has a positive impact for his team. Opposing players like LeBron James have praised Stevens like they don’t with most head coaches out there.

Playing under Stevens could also be a lure for potential free agents to Boston this summer.

Boston’s season may be over, but they have a bright future ahead of them. They have young players who can develop and played four hard games against the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. But if they have real confidence in their future, it should start and begin with Stevens.