Two weeks ago at the NBA all-star festivities, players and fans were treated to a fun-filled and exciting atmosphere. Among those in the spotlight was Brad Stevens, head coach of the Eastern Conference squad. In his fourth season as head coach of the Boston Celtics, Stevens has led the team to an impressive record, earning him the opportunity to coach in this year’s all-star game. The Celtics currently sit at second in the East, and they are boasting some pretty good numbers on the floor.
Stevens garnered national attention as the head coach of Butler during its back-to-back appearances in the National Championship game in 2010 and 2011. In both those years, Butler finished at No. 2 in the nation in the final poll — the highest ever finish in school history. Since coming into the NBA, Stevens has been described as a coaching prodigy of sorts, and the Celtics have improved each year under his tenure thus far.
The young coach takes a calm and controlled approach to leadership, known for keeping emotion and theatrics out of the game. He strays from impassioned speeches in halftime recaps. His quick timeout chats are poised and direct.
During play, Stevens observes quietly on the edge of the court, arms folded, his eyes set intently on his system at work.
Perhaps the reason Stevens stays so focused is because he takes pride in this system. It is built on teamwork and fundamentals on both ends of the floor. His Butler teams were particularly known for their defense. In 2009-10, the Bulldogs were top 10 in the country in opponent points-per-game. This is how Stevens made a name for himself. He took a cinderella team and turned them into a winner with strong defensive fundamentals.
But as Stevens continues to develop his professional style in Boston, his offensive intelligence is beginning to shine. This year’s Celtics team is third in the East in points-per-game. And while the scoring is plentiful, it is also incredibly efficient. The Celtics lead the East in assists-per-game.
Clearly, the team-based mentality that Stevens strives to instill in his players has neatly taken hold. Point guard Isaiah Thomas has been the biggest beneficiary of this efficiency. Thomas’ 29.5 points-per-game is good for second in the NBA. At five-feet-nine, Thomas has defied the odds and used Stevens’ system to his advantage. Thomas’ improvement is perhaps the best example of Stevens getting the most out of what he has been given to work with.
Wrapped up in Stevens’ calm approach is a competitive drive. Stevens loves to win, and so do his players. Both at Butler and in Boston, he has been able to turn losing teams into winning teams within a few years. Perhaps a factor in his success has been that, until now, Stevens has been grossly underestimated by his opponents.
He hides his vast basketball knowledge behind a young face and a relaxed attitude, but the word is out, and everyone knows how brilliant he is. Stevens is an effective winner, and people have begun to notice.
The Celtics are positioned to make a lot of noise in the East going forward. With Stevens at the helm, there is no telling how efficient they can be. Stevens can take anything you give him and respond capably. After a short stay in the gutter following their decade of dominance, the Celtics are back with a fire in their eyes, and Stevens is responsible.
All-star weekend may have been a defining moment for Stevens. He now stands in a place he never has before: the NBA’s centerstage, in the spotlight. And the true test of his winning scheme will come in full force, now that everyone in the league is out to beat him.