Coaching in the NBA is hard. Coaching in the NBA without elite players is even harder. Brad Stevens is ultimately responsible for the wins and losses, but everyone involved understands that right now he doesn't have the players necessary to win consistently. Part of that is by design and part of it is just bad luck (injuries, etc.). So for the most part you have to nod at the record and set it aside when evaluating how Stevens is doing this year.
We are 3 quarters of the way through year one of the rebuild. It is anyone's guess how long the rebuilding will last and how soon we'll get to the competing phase again, but all we have to go on is this year. How has he done so far? Is there enough evidence there to be optimistic for the future?
Overall philosophy and demeanor
Much is made of Stevens personality. And rightfully so, since a good team will follow the coach's lead and take on a bit of his personality. Brad is usually unflappable, competitive, and has great attention to detail without losing the forest for the trees.
This seems to be why the team hasn't given up, despite being 20 games below .500. Yes, there are nights when nothing is going right and the team gets blown out. That happens to just about any team. But it doesn't happen often with this team and they certainly haven't mailed in the season the way the Sixers have.
Jared Sullinger gives credit to the coach in this respect.
"I just think that’s a testament of Brad," he said. "He hasn’t given up. He’s still coaching his butt off. He hasn’t given up on us, and I think this team has bought into his system, has bought into his coaching style. "I think the biggest thing is teams where we’re at right now can really just kind of give up and just say, ‘You know what? Forget this season. Let’s try again next year.’ I don’t think any of us are thinking like that, and it shows in our play. I mean, every night we come out and play hard.
System and style
On defense Stevens has some different approaches than what we're used to seeing from Doc Rivers, but a big part of that probably has to do with having different personnel as well. Kevin Garnett covers up for a multitude of mistakes on defense and there's nobody that resembles KG here anymore. That said, the team has been about league average in most defensive stats. There's at least reason to believe that with better defensive players and fewer injuries to key players, we could have an above average to excellent defense.
Offense has been a struggle however. Our own wjsy takes a detailed look at how things have changed since the start of the year on offense.
Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee thrived in Stevens' stripped down system and were quickly traded off like fruit ripening on the vine. They were never going to be in the long term plans of the Celtics anyway. Really, the question looming over the team was how Rajon Rondo would be incorporated into the offense when he returned? The two had developed a chemistry off the court, but there were uncertainties in how their philosophies would gel on the parquet.
He goes on to show how Rondo is able to take advantage of his considerable vision and skills to make the right plays within the offense. In short, having an elite playmaker on the court makes the offense run better. Imagine that!
The offense had been slowing down for years even during the KG-Pierce years in part because those guys were slowing down. The jury is still out on this Rondo-led offense but once again, there seems to at least be reason for optimism.
Drilling down further I think you can see that Avery Bradley has developed himself much more on the offensive side of the ball this year. Jeff Green started off slowly (or inconsistently) and I think it is fair to share some of the blame of that on the coaching staff. But to everyone's credit, he's been more consistent lately. Brandon Bass keeps doing Brandon Bass things and Kris Humphries has been better than I thought he'd be.
There have been a series of Gerald Wallace rants over the team's effort on a particular night, but I think Stevens was wise to let him rant away since it was a good intended message to the players (even if I was sick of hearing it through the media).
I still don't fully understand what happened with Keith Bogans, who was supposed to be such a "great locker room guy" and all that. But I can guess that his displeasure had to do with his fundamental player's pride and wanting to get on the court. Without many facts it is hard to tell how well or how poorly Stevens handled that and how much of it was handled for him by management. But it doesn't seem like there's been any negative fallout toward Stevens from the players.
Birthdaygate got enough press so I won't belabor the point. Again, I'm not sure how directly Stevens himself was involved and only time will tell how well he and Rajon Rondo work together. It appears that they have all put the incident behind them, which seems like a good thing.
So overall if I had to lean in any direction I'd put myself i the cautiously optimistic camp. Much of what has gone wrong has little to do directly with Stevens this year and he's done plenty of things to help the team move in the right direction. I'm sure he's still drinking from the firehose in terms of learning the NBA game, but like any rookie you can see the game starting to slow down for him over time.
What you you think about the job he's done? Do you think he's the right man for the job going forward?