Brad Stevens feels like a witch doctor sometimes.
The Boston Celtics head coach has found ways to win with absurdly varying levels of talent, from this season’s Kyrie Irving and Al Horford-led squad to Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner and the ragtag 2014-15 C’s. He’ll just as soon beat you with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown or Abdel Nader and Shane Larkin.
Stevens is no mad scientist, though, and possesses no magic formula. So, how does he get results?
ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe offered a glimpse of Stevens’ coaching style Friday, and revealed a straightforward leader who finds success by doing the little things well — like communicating with players.
“Stevens is careful with language, according to coaches, players and team higher-ups,” Lowe writes. “He focuses on actions: We didn’t get this rebound. You should have made this rotation earlier. The criticism is never about the player’s character. No one is labeled lazy or stupid or selfish. Stevens simply describes what did or did not happen, and what should happen next time.”
This approach, Lowe points out, helps maintain continuity and prevent petty bickering that leads to locker room divisions. That strategy seems obvious, but if you follow, say, the Celtics’ current playoff opponent, it clearly doesn’t happen on every team.
Stevens also has stripped away the “bells and whistles” found in other NBA locker rooms, Lowe writes. He doesn’t “regularly host famous guest speakers or take field trips” and actually has banned rookie hazing, wanting first-year players (like Jaylen Brown last season and Jayson Tatum this season) to “take as much ownership of the team as the stars.”
“Pranks waste time,” Lowe writes. “(Stevens) was not thrilled last season when culprits unknown filled Brown’s car with popcorn.”
The result of these practices is “an environment of serious, hard, consistent work” in Boston that would make Bill Belichick proud (and that the New England Patriots head coach may have influenced).
Stevens isn’t a total robot; the C’s coach allows his players to goof off with “celebrity look-alike” games during film sessions and tried defending mammoth center Aron Baynes during a recent practice that resulted in some comic relief.
But “the work always governs” in Boston, Lowe adds, which may explain why the C’s are still working long after many thought they would.