First-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been a revelation in Boston. The former Butler coach has figured out how to fit a roster of square pegs into round holes, finding his new team in the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference even without their All-NBA point guard. Stevens, thanks to his wild success at the collegiate level, could have entered the league with a huge ego (like a certain former big-time college coach who attempted to bring his college style to the pro game in Boston), but he has done the complete opposite.
Stevens gives all the credit to his players for executing and making the right plays. He is all about positive reinforcement, and rarely, if ever, gets animated on the sidelines (see his reaction to Jeff Green‘s last second prayer to beat the Heat in Miami earlier this year). Stevens is able to adapt his coaching style to his personnel and reach his players on a personal level, getting the most out of his players on the way to creating a winning atmosphere in Boston â€“ even without top-notch talent.
When Rick Pitino came to Boston in 1997, he thought he had all the answers. For his first act of business, he did the unthinkable â€“ stripping the title of president from Red Auerbach. He brought in some of his former players from Kentucky, thinking he could make his vaunted full-court press work in the pros. Pitino didn’t have the patience to wait for Chauncey Billups to blossom, and traded him for Kenny Anderson after 51 games, only to see Billups evolve into an All-Star just a few seasons later. Pitino refused to take the blame for the Celtics struggles, and had a famous press conference after a particularly tough buzzer-beater loss, exploding and saying, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door and Robert Parish is not walking through that door.” Coaching a young Celtics team and trying to pick up the pieces after a recently departed Big Three. Sound familiar?
Stevens has taken a far different approach. When asked of expectations, he says his only wish is simply for the team to get better each day. Assuming that is the organizational goal as well, Stevens appears to be the perfect man for the job.
One aspect that has made Stevens so successful is his willingness to adapt. He is implementing schemes based solely on the talent on hand â€“ not insisting on doing everything in the same manner he did at Butler and expecting it to translate seamlessly to the NBA. In fact, Stevens has made a huge adjustment to his philosophy on guarding the pick-n-roll heading into this season.
Recently, Stevens explained to Grantland how in his previous 13 years of coaching, he has had his teams show hard and blitz the dribbler on the pick-n-roll. However, this year he has had his bigs drop, in more of a lateral hedge. When asked why, Stevens responded he discussed the situation with his assistants and decided dropping was the best for the talent on hand this season.