From the moment the Boston Celtics hired new coach Brad Stevens, I have heard about his affinity for applying mathematics and advanced statistics in his coaching. He’s a meticulous, calculating coach who seems to plan 20 steps ahead.
Such descriptions are a divergence from the previous coaching regime of Doc Rivers and will provide a fresh start for the Celtics. Steven’s methods, while not traditional or “old-fashioned”, are effective; he’s not a just a basketball”nerd”, he’s a basketball teacher as well.
Stevens never recruited the best players at Butler, but every adjustment and every observation he made went towards making a small mid-major in Indiana a basketball powerhouse in late March. Rick Pitino isn’t walking through that door, and that’s a good thing for Stevens, who will be trying to succeed in a league seemingly designed for a college coach’s failure.
The hiring underscores Boston’s dedication to analytics, which has recently revolutionized the way basketball is played, coached, and analyzed. Statistics are now more valuable and more advanced than ever and most team have integrated analytics into their organization in one way or another.
The Celtics also marks quite possibly a changing of the guard for college coaches in the NBA, something that has never quite worked out. Whatever the challenges Stevens faces,one thing is for sure: coaching the Boston Celtics won’t be like coaching the Butler Bulldogs.
Stevens may not command the respect of someone like Rivers right away, but he’s also unlikely to get his head bitten off by the supposed coach-killing gremlin, Rajon Rondo. Both Stevens and Rondo seem eager to work with each other and willing to usher in a new era in Boston. In fact, Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe reported that Stevens flew to Louisville in order to meet Rondo and speak at his basketball camp Thursday:
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was in Louisville today and spoke at Rajon Rondo’s basketball camp there.
— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) July 11, 2013
Stevens seems to be learning quickly about establishing long-term relationships with professional players, something much different than a college coach’s relationship with his players. Stevens’ mathematical approach to the game, however, may be key in finally establishing a potent, creative offense and moving away from the mid-range-centric offense. Having a coach who understands which shots are the most efficient will facilitate (and hopefully accelerate) the rebuilding process.
Bringing along his statistical guru, Drew Cannon, from Butler, Stevens and the Celtics have made it clear they’re dedicated to combining statistical evaluation with traditional preparation. Cannon has been described as being “instrumental in Butler’s success”.
For those who are expecting Stevens to fail like his collegiate predecessors Rick Pitino and John Calipari, you may be disappointed. Pitino and Calipari are excellent recruiters and excellent coaches, but their egos led to their NBA demise. Stevens won’t have that problem; he’s a humble guy who is unlikely to step on toes in the front office (unlike Pitino, who dissed Red Auerbach before he even arrived) and will try to work amicably with the mercurial Rondo while developing the young guys.
Most importantly, Stevens isn’t expected to win right away; he can take his lumps and learn on the fly without major backlash. Ainge hired him because he wanted a young coach excited and motivated to bring a franchise through an interesting, transitional phase.
Should Stevens succeed, then the hire is brilliant and Ainge is a genius. Should Stevens fail, then Ainge struck out on a young coach with basically no harm done. The Stevens hire a low-risk, high-reward move, something we have become accustomed to seeing out of Ainge.