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I have to admit: I do not follow NCAA at all. I do create a March Madness bracket every year based on advanced stats and historical data, which usually fails to win anything (I managed to do better than Rajon Rondo and President Obama on ESPN Challenge last year though). When I heard the news that Brad Stevens was going to be the new coach of the Celtics I had no idea who he was, yet the excitement of fellow writer Mike Dyer along with the media hype was enough for optimism. Since then I have read a lot of articles about Stevens: his personality, his achievements, his approach and I now share the excitement on him. As a matter of fact, I believe that this signing has the potential to be a great improvement, let alone replacement, over Doc. Here is why:

1. Focus on relationships and "team first" mentality: Stevens has turned a mid-major team into a legit contender at Butler, and many sports figures cite his "team first" mentality as one key to his success. Well, that approach is not news to the Celtics nation: Ubuntu had been the keyword of the Big 3 era that is now behind us. My very first article on this blog talked about the need to redefine and reinvigorate the Celtics' team spirit, and now that we're officially rebooting a new era, a coach that could help that task would be of great importance. At his first press conference as a Celtics coach, Brad Stevens repeatedly talked about relationships and everyone being on the same page. That's a great first impression to me. The Celtics needed a change as Doc was clearly tired of coaching the team, and Stevens' approach fills me with nothing but optimism.

2. Analytical mind: I know that some old school fans still rely on the eye test more than numbers, or that some people tend to overuse statistics to reach far-fetched conclusions cause some skepticism towards an analytical approach in basketball, but overall the use of advanced statistics have undeniably changed the NBA will continue to do so in the future. I don't know how much of a numbers guy Doc was, but his insistence on several lineups and favoring certain players even when they don't produce gives me the suspicion that he liked his guts more than math. The following passage from Woj's article confirms my suspicions:

Celtics GM Danny Ainge leans heavily on his analytics staff, and at a meeting with Doc Rivers at season's end, it was suggested Rivers should perhaps incorporate more of those elements into his game plans and preparations, several sources told Y! Sports.
Privately, Rivers winced over the contents of some of the discussion, sources said. There was no confrontation, but there was tension.

Boston Celtics is one of the teams that invest in technological developments such as player tracking software, and apparently Ainge is big on that too. So it wouldn't make sense to pay huge money to a coach that doesn't agree with you on that front. (Don't forget that Lionel Hollins, despite his huge success, was fired for "vision" related reasons too)

Brad Stevens, on the other hand, is a huge stats guy. As Pete Thamel of SI.com reported, it was Brad Stevens and Butler who conducted the first pure statistics-based hire on a college basketball staff in Drew Csnnon. "Cannon sends Stevens a 10-page e-mail breaking down and analyzing the numbers after every Butler game. The report takes 10 to 12 hours for Cannon to put together," writes Thamel, and states that Cannon's greatest work is lineup analysis. I have always felt that is one area the Celtics could improve, and seeing that we have a head coach who understands the importance of stats and is totally on the same page with Ainge cannot be bad news.


3. Emphasis on defense: Kevin O'Connor of the CelticsBlog has a detailed analysis of Brad Stevens' defensive philosophy. To summarize, Stevens believes defense is the foundation of a contender and his priority is to get back on defense instead of getting offensive boards, which is completely in line with the Celtics' philosophy of the recent years. However, according to O'Connor, there is one crucial aspect: Stevens preaches the importance of boxing out and relying on technique to get boards, something that we haven't really seen in the post-Thibodeau era.

In other words, Stevens' philosophy is perfectly in line with the Celtics' culture and then some. Perfect.

4. Commitment: When asked how Stevens' NBA career could be different than Pitino's or Calipari's, Danny Ainge underlined ommitment: The Celtics are invested in Stevens as a person, and the 6-year, $22 million deal clearly shows that. Doc's departure was disappointing for several reasons, yet one was that he knew rebuilding would come and he was OK with it when he signed his contract. Apparently he was not as committed as he looked. At the end of every season he felt the need to detox, he had to consult/think about his family, his coaching career...

Brad Stevens is 36 years old and this is his first NBA team. He is clearly not tired of coaching yet, so he won't feel the urge to detox after every single season. He has a lot to prove, and ambition goes a long way when you're the head coach of a team.

One gem out of the press conference today: Doc has never moved to Boston, but Stevens will soon. That sends a clear signal on how committed Stevens is to this new challenge.

5. Humility and charisma: Doc's relationship with the press has always been his forte. He is a respected and charismatic coach, and even though the way he quit on the Celtics wasn't the best, he will still be remembered as one.

Good news: It looks like Brad Stevens has the same quality as he passed his first test with the media in flying colors today. I don't want to get carried away as I know that most coaches know how to hit the right note in such occasions, yet there was something about Stevens that made you like him instantly. Even Gary Tanguay said that he loved him and he grudgingly gave the Celtics a lot of credit for the signing.

If you're a coach who is big on relationships, team spirit and everyone being on the same page, you have to be likable/respected to be successful. That was one distinctive characteristic of Doc Rivers, and today Brad Stevens has sent a strong signal that he'll fill those shoes.

semioticus (shelbyl) 7/05/2013 03:59:00 PM Edit
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