Brad Stevens has become the NBA's wunderkind of coaching. He's drawn nearly continuous praise since last season. Good luck finding a Celtics preview article that doesn't devote at least a paragraph to raving about Stevens.
This article from Ben Rohrbach at Ball Don't Lie is a great example. Rohrbach lauds him, writing "On the cusp of his 39th birthday, he's already one of the NBA's brightest basketball minds. ... Ainge has a superstar under contract. He just wears a suit and tie." It's rare to have people refer to a coach as the star of a team, but that's common when it comes to Brad Stevens.
But it's not just the NBA writers, praise is coming from everywhere. Pelicans assistant Darren Erman remarked "Brad's a great, great, great person, great coach. He's like the Steph Curry of coaches." An odd comparison, sure, but the message is clear. LeBron James named Boston's offense one of the most difficult to defend. Apologies to the team, but it's pretty obvious who that praise is directed at. Professional gambler and Game of Thrones mantra Haralabos Voulgaris called Brad Stevens the best in-game coach in the NBA. Gregg Popovich even admitted that coaches were using Stevens' plays before Stevens even started coaching in the NBA. The general level of respect for Stevens around the league is couldn't be higher.
"Are the Celtics actually any good, though?" This question from Rohrbach's article, not to be confused with the overarching question from Review, raises an interesting thought. The Boston Celtics are certainly better than they were last year. But the team still feels like the island of misfit toys sometimes. The overall talent level isn't super impressive. Some people are bullish on their chances this year though. Bill Simmons recently floated 50 wins as a possibility for instance. I'm not quite that confident, because other Eastern Conference teams have improved since last season as well. The Pacers have Paul George back, Miami's starting five looks terrifying, and the Pistons could even be a little frisky this season. The point being, the playoffs are no lock for this team. If Boston keeps up its inspired late season pace, then that statement might look ridiculous in hindsight. However right now Brad Stevens has a real challenge on his hands.
This leads into the idea of expectation. Brad Stevens was playing with house money so to speak the last couple years. The teams were expected, and maybe even designed to tank. Wins would be nice, but it didn't really matter if the team lost. But, last season's performance changed the situation. Stevens got more out of that team than anyone imagined possible. So there's a certain assumption that he'll be able to do it again. This season, Stevens and the Celtics won't catch any team by surprise. Boston will be out to prove that the second half of last year wasn't a fluke.
I'm confident he can handle the pressure though. After all, his Butler team returned to the national championship game the next year. That was after losing the best player in the program's history too. His focus on the "process" is a grounding force. Rohrbach sheds a little light on Stevens' methods in the preview article.
Stevens literally boils the game down to each possession, because it levels the playing field. If you can win one possession against a LeBron James-led team, you can win the next. Win more than the other guy over the course of a game, and you've done your job. Do it for a full season, and you're golden. Then do it again in the playoffs.
The playoff success isn't quite there yet, but the point remains. If Stevens can keep the team focused on their play, and not necessarily their record, then it will benefit them in the long run. He'll have his hands full with the massive rotation, and the ever lurking threat of Danny Ainge roster moves. But everyone seems to believe in Brad Stevens' ability to handle the challenge. After everything he's done so far, why wouldn't they?