The MVP is a pretty nebulous concept. The vagueness of what value means prevents a clear-cut definition of the what the award should be. Now, the "player" aspect of the MVP is rarely questioned. But this year has shown us that exceptions should be made. In the Boston Celtics' case, the most valuable member of the team has been the coach.
The Celtics weren't expected to win much this season. That's not to say they were tanking, but it was clearly a rebuilding year from the beginning. Almost every preseason projection put Boston in the lottery. The face of the team was traded in December, the leading scorer was shipped out in January, and the best rebounder was lost for the season in February (his unexpected return notwithstanding). With all this instability, how did the Celtics become the 7th seed? The answer is Brad Stevens. Well, the east being a dumpster fire helps, but mostly it's Brad Stevens.
Stevens is gaining momentum as a coach of the year candidate. Nate Scott of USA Today endorsed him yesterday for the award. Bill Simmons has been planning presidential parade routes for some time now. There some were hints last season at how good Stevens could be. He did a masterful job getting the most out his players. Remember Jordan Crawford? He was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week with the Celtics late in 2013. Now he's in the D-League, after a brief stint in China this season.
Then there's Tayshaun Prince this season. Prince's tenure in Boston was a crazy outlier in a slow descent into mediocrity. He went from being a buyout candidate to having some value as an asset. Danny Ainge flipped him at the deadline for Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome. Almost on cue, Jerebko lit it up, and Gigi became a cult hero.
Boston's season has been tumultuous to say the least. The Celtics have used 13 different starting lineups this season. A staggering 22 different players have seen game action, and over 40 players have been on the roster. It seems like the more you throw at Stevens and this team, the better they perform.
At this point I'm confident Stevens can turn anything into chicken salad.
The pace and space attack of the Celtics has been slowly improving too. Before the all star break, the Celtics ranked 23rd in Offensive efficiency, per NBA.com. They've moved up to 15th since. The absence of Rondo and to some extent Green certainly had an effect. They're good players, but Stevens has been able to run his offense more effectively without them.
The Celtics aren't the Spurs or Hawks yet, but if Stevens gets the right pieces then that isn't out of the question. The Thomas acquisition was a definite turning point this season. His play has been a real boost to the team, and could be a sign of what happens when Stevens has talent to coach. Thomas might just be to Stevens what Tony Parker and Jeff Teague are to Popovich and Budenholzer respectively.
Prominent figures in the NBA world already regard Stevens as a top in game coach. Greg Popovich even admitted that he's "stolen from him plenty" in terms of strategy. That's quite the compliment coming from Pop. It's not easy to see everything that goes into coaching. The day-to-day minutia is often hidden from the fans. But we can examples of his skill in the games. His play diagramming has received acclaim from just about everyone this season.
Stevens has drawn up some incredible game winners, like Zeller's last second shot against Utah and Isaiah Thomas' frenzied drive against Toronto. He doesn't just save his good stuff for the very end of games either. Against Orlando, Stevens created an open look for Olynyk with this gem of a play call. Just last night he facilitated Marcus Smart's thunderous dunk with this bit of ingenuity right before halftime. His creativity is something to watch for every game, which isn't said often about a coach.
A common theme to this season is that this team doesn't give up. That all starts with Stevens. He keeps coaching and teaching until the buzzer sounds. That's the kind of thing that can build a winning culture. Their record in close games has changed drastically from earlier in the season. Random chance has a lot to do with this, but you can't overlook the effect that Brad Stevens has in these scenarios. He brought the Celtics to the verge of a .500 record, which seemed impossible at the beginning of the season.
The Celtics face a brutal matchup in the first round. They're going up against LeBron and the Cavs, who are looking every bit the powerhouse people expected to begin this season. It will be the hardest test of Brad Stevens' young career. We'll all be looking forward to see how he performs under the pressure of playoff basketball. If his time at Butler has taught us anything, we shouldn't count him out just because his team is the underdog going in. After all, he's the MVP this season.