Saturday, December 14, 2013

Is Brad Stevens the NBA Coach of the Year?

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About 1/4 of the NBA season has passed, and the rookie coach of the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, has opened the eyes of many Celtics fans. The Celtics are 11-14 and still in first place of the Atlantic Division, while the talent level of the team is probably in the bottom three of the whole league. The star player, Rajon Rondo, hasn't even seen the court yet! How is Stevens finding ways to win?

In almost every game the Celtics have played this season, the opposing team has had the two or three best players on the floor consistently. Take the game against the Miami Heat early in the season. The defending world champions had Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh against Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford. Who do you think usually wins that battle? The Celtics were able to beat the Heat that game solely because Brad Stevens out-coached Erik Spoelstra. (It also didn't hurt that Jeff Green played out of his mind and hit the buzzer beating game winner). 

Jordan Crawford, who has bounced around the league for 5 years, playing for 3 different teams in that time span, has had a resurgence as a player this year in the green uniform of the Celtics. Brad Stevens asked him to play the role of facilitator at the point guard position and Crawford's numbers responded wonderfully. Jordan Crawford is averaging 14 points and 6 assists while keeping his turnovers down and maintaining a 18.59 PER, which is above the league average of 15.00. Jordan Crawford, who was once a pure scorer off the bench who only looked at the basket, is now racking up assists and playing great team basketball. Brad Stevens basically single-handedly turned Jordan Crawford into a player that can actually help his team win. In an interview with's Zach Lowe, Brad Stevens said this about Crawford,

"The only thing I wanted to make sure he knew from my standpoint was that it's a fresh start — that we believe in him. I had seen him be almost unstoppable in college [at Xavier], in a game I coached against him. I knew he was a tough shot-maker. The other thing I knew was, he's not scared of the moment. I watched him play us, but also watched him play Kansas State [in the 2010 tournament] from the front row, because we were gonna play the winner. And he made huge shots. And in the NCAA tournament, in that tense of an atmosphere, that takes a lot of guts."

Not to shabby considering he is playing the one in the place of one of the leagues top facilitators in Rajon Rondo...

Another reason why Brad Stevens has been so good in his role as head coach of the Boston Celtics is that he understands his personnel. He basically took a seat and watched the first 5 games of the season to get a feel for his players and that's when he moved Crawford to the point. He understands that his players can do this, this, and this, but they can't do that. For instance, he knows that Jared Sullinger can shoot the three ball, post up, and battle on the offensive/defensive boards, but he struggles on guarding skillful centers that have size and weight on him and coming out on screens when playing defense. So, in turn, Stevens gave Sullinger the green light from behind the arc, told him to be very conservative on the screens and not blitz or jam them, and call for double teams whenever he's in a tough situation on the low block.

Also, Brad Stevens has led the Boston Celtics to wins by playing great team defense. Boston is 6th in the NBA in points allowed, giving up only 95.7 PPG to opposing teams. This is truly amazing because the Celtics possess zero shot-blockers on the roster to challenge players at the rim. When Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger are on the floor, which they usually are because they are the Celtics' two best big men, the presence of a shot blocker is M.I.A. But the Celtics make up for the lack of size with rotating in front of driving guards to take charges and playing great perimeter defense with Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee.

Lastly, Brad Stevens success in Boston can be accredited to his ability to control the pace of the game with timeouts and coming out of those timeouts with efficient plays that work. In timeouts and in late-game situations, Stevens' plays that he draws up always seem to work, even though he almost never has a great shooter or awesome scorer.

So should Brad Stevens be the latest recipient of the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year Award? No, probably not. This year, when so many teams with low expectations are playing at such a high level like the Portland Trail Blazers, it would be tough for President Stevens to win the prestigious awards. The Coach of the Year is chosen by a panel of journalists and I predict that Stevens will finish either fourth or fifth in the race. Frank Vogel, the coach of NAPTOWN!!!, will probably win the award because his team is playing sot greatly in every aspect of the game. Coaches Frank Vogel, Gregg Popovich, Terry Stotts, and Erik Spoelstra will probably finish in front of "Boston's Thinker".  But, if the Boston Celtics string together a bundle of wins and end up in the playoffs with the 7th seed, I truly believe that Stevens has a fighter's chance to win the COY.