The Boston Celtics are the hottest team in the NBA. Recently, they defeated the best team in the Western Conference the Golden State Warriors and pushed their winning streak to 14 games after losing their first two. The Celtics are the unlikely owners of the best record in the NBA and while they definitely can’t keep this pace up, they have put the league on notice they are ready to contend for the title now.
Prospects for the Celtics were bad when they lost their prized free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward to a nasty ankle injury five minutes into the season. This was punctuated by consecutive losses to their conference rivals Cleveland Cavaliers and the upstart Milwaukee Bucks. Since then, the Celtics have been unbeatable despite a depleted a line-up. While their success can be attributed to the assembled talent, the main reason is their young, soft-spoken coach Brad Stevens.
Considered a coaching prodigy, Stevens, if I am not mistaken, is youngest head coach in the NBA today at 41 years. His steady hand, calm demeanor, and strong system have allowed the Celtics to be on the top just a few years after a full rebuild.
Stevens was given the job in 2013 when the Celtics were in the midst of a rebuild. Just in his second season as coach, he led a ragtag team to the playoffs. Last season, he led the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference and played in the Conference Finals before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the offseason, Stevens was given another challenge – how to build a contender despite a wholesale roster turnover while developing young and talented prospects, and integrating star-level players. The Celtics have 10 new players and four new starters.
Chemistry and consistency is always a challenge for new team no matter how talented but Stevens has been able to, almost overnight, to make all the pieces fit. The team’s collective success is testament to the strength of Stevens’ coaching system.
On offense, Stevens likes to do assist-heavy, team-oriented sets with the ball moving from side with players in constant motion. On defense, he relies on communications-heavy, tight knit defensive schemes. At present, the Celtics boast of the defense in the league. Of course it helps a lot that his team is stacked with versatile and athletic players who can plays “position-less” basketball, a style that is also becoming a Stevens hallmark.
If you look at all the adjectives to describe this young coach such as intellectual, competitive, and truthful, it’s his calm demeanor that is always being praised by players and colleagues alike. Coaching legend Gregg Popovich says “He’s unbelievable in how he carries himself. He’s truthful and straight up with his players, and in this league, that’s the biggest thing they respect — that you are comfortable in your own skin.”
This early in the season, pundits are already giving the Coach of the Year trophy to Stevens due to his remarkable coaching skills. And I definitely agree.