Stunned doesn’t quite cut it. Impressively stunned is more along the lines of how folks have responded to the Brad Stevens hire in Boston. Though greener than a Celtics jersey―he’s only 36 and has never coached in the NBA―the former Butler coach brings with him an unheralded level of success―he holds the record for most wins by a Division I coach in the first six years of his coaching tenure. And, though surprising, this looks like the coaching hire that everyone should have seen coming. Like with Doc’s departure, there was some writing on the wall.
Stevens’ college record was 30-4, 26-6, 33-5, 28-10, 22-15 and 27-9. In six years, Stevens posted an impressive record as head coach of the Butler Bulldogs that amounts to a 77% success rate. Those results won’t be expected from him at the outset as the NBA’s youngest head coach, and as someone who’ll be manning a full-fledged basketball rebuild. But it’s a mark he’s expected to reach for in what the Celtics hope can be a storied career. Sources say that they expect Stevens to be in Beantown for a good chunk of time.
The reception to his hiring has been almost resoundingly positive because the Celtics’ woes just happen to be Brad Stevens-shaped. In fact, Stevens brings with him these four realities to a team looking to dig themselves out of an offseason ditch.
Rondo No Longer A Rodeo
His high school coach bumped heads with him. Ray Allen is said to have been irked by him. Some say Rivers and Rajon had a physical altercation which led to Rivers leaving. And if Ainge holds to his promise, and doesn’t ship Rondo for re-building blocks, Stevens will have to wrangle with the stellar point.
Judging from his CV, this just might be the task Stevens was born to take on. Sure, he preached an all-team mentality at Butler, but not giving Rondo the majority of his attention could spell disaster. Or it could not.
I once heard that Rondo is more reserved and focused than people realize, and that winning is at the forefront of his ambitions, not having his way. Though Doc was collected, Stevens seems to have the real Ph.D in cool, and is known for arriving at creative solutions with the help of his players. Giving in or fighting Rondo’s resolve hasn’t seemed to work much up to this point; perhaps letting him voice himself, and be an architect more than a puppeteer off the court, is the correct way of letting his competitive nature manifest itself. That could lead to unprecedented success. Stevens is smart and patient enough to know this.
Coaching Young Talent Is His Modus Operandi
The Celtics are looking like a fine reflection of their new coach: young in the face. But that’s why Stevens took an unpaid job at Butler’s basketball office : to learn how to tap into youth―even if his own.
Doc wanted nothing to do with the rebuilding process. Instead, the Celtics get a fine mind who will help shape the next generation of C’s into respectable dynasty pieces. A defense-first company culture will help Avery Bradley sharpen his skills, Green will feel more comfortable working his way into the starting rotation, and Rondo, though less young, still has areas he can improve on. Tack on Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson, not to mention the 2014, 2016, and 2018 first-round picks, and you almost have a college team headed by Rondo.
Stevens will eat this up.
Not ‘The Butler Way’ But The Better Way
Stevens’ college players bought into the team-first, defensive-minded system Butler touted. Once head coach, Stevens took that philosophy and made it into a calling card.
Now he has another opportunity to establish a new culture in the big leagues. If Doc might have stuck around, molding a new team mentality would involve the stretching and ripping of egos. Going with a new coach, especially one new to the NBA fields, makes it easier for management to deal with the rocky roads ahead. He’ll be more malleable and so will the direction he takes his team.
If all goes well, Stevens can lay the foundation for a long career in Boston. The Celtics brass are hoping as much as the rebuilding process might take years and having the same guy running the show throughout could prove rewarding.
Analytic Basketball Minds Think Alike
The Celtics approach everything with a cautious, advanced-metrics mind. So does Stevens, who isn’t known for his in-game adjustments as he is for his next-game Battleship sinkings. It’s a match made in b-ball heaven, and certainly a union of the minds that will allow rebuild mode in Boston to flourish at an improved rate.
For example, in 2012-13 the Celtics had a horrible time getting shots off (29th in FGA), in making 3-pointers (25th), couldn’t get to the line (23rd), and couldn’t snatch rebounds (also 29th). So you need bigs (they picked up two seven-footers in the draft), need someone like Jeff Green surrounded by better 3-pointers so he can drive (to draw fouls) or kick it out to the perimeter (thus improving their 3-FGA’s and the amount falling in). An analytic mind like Stevens’ can already see the gears turning.
Advanced stats might also tell him to make better use of Shavlik Randolph. He had the second-highest win share-per-48 minutes on the team, snagged rebounds at a much higher rate (20.9% or .353 per minute) than anyone else on the squad (Sullinger was number 2 with 17.5%), and would only trail D.J. White and Fab Melo on blocks when accounted for 36 minutes of playing time. He wouldn’t be another Kevin Garnett but could see a bigger role if numbers did the talking.
With Stevens, the Celtics can start playing some more moneyball.
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