When you look at the Boston Celtics’ roster, a couple names will stand out.
First there is Isaiah Thomas, the NBA’s third highest scorer. The two-time All-Star point guard is the clear leader in Boston. Everything starts and ends with him.
Then there is Al Horford, a 10-year veteran and four-time All Star. He’s also the team’s leading rebounder. There was a lot of excitement among Boston fans when they signed him this past summer. He averaged 14 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in his first season with the team.
The last name that might stand out to you is Avery Bradley. He is more known for his defense, but has improved his scoring over the years.
There aren’t really any weapons on this Boston team besides those guys. A 12-point gap exists between their leading scorer and second-highest scorer in terms of points per game. No one averages even seven rebounds a game on their team.
However, the Celtics ranked seventh in points per game. They also move the ball very well, evidence by their 25.2 assists per game, which ranked fourth in the league. They take care of the ball as well with the ninth fewest turnovers in the league at only 13.3 per game.
All of these things have contributed to Boston getting to the top of the Eastern Conference this season. The Celtics do not look intimidating on paper, so how did they do it?
The answer is Brad Stevens. Stevens has done so much for the organization in the four seasons he has been with the team. He took them from nothing and turned them into contenders.
Before Stevens came to Boston, he was working his magic with the Butler Bulldogs. In his six seasons with the team he went 166-49 and brought Butler to the National Championship game in back-to-back seasons. They may not have won either of them, but Stevens put Butler on the map.
Stevens has been known for his young age. When initially hired at Butler, he was the second-youngest coach in NCAA Division I basketball. Later on he became the third-youngest coach in NCAA Division I history to have a 30-win season. He was also the second-youngest coach to make an NCAA Championship game and youngest coach to make two Final Fours.
When Stevens signed with Boston, he was the league’s youngest active coach at 36 years old. The young genius did not have much to work with when he first came to Boston in 2013. Yes, the team went 41-40 the season before, which was good enough for the seventh seed in the playoffs.
However, the team made a blockbuster trade with the Nets and lost key contributors like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. They received Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, three first-round picks and the right to swap first-round picks this season.
Looking back, Boston obviously won this trade because of the draft picks, but the players they received were not much to be happy about. Joseph was waived not too long after the trade and the four remaining players averaged a combined 18.6 points per game in their first season in Boston. Neither of those guys are on the team today.
The starting lineup featured guys like Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. Green lead the team in scoring at just 16.9 points per game. Star point guard Rajon Rondo only played in 30 games due to an injury he suffered in the season before. It was a tough first year for Stevens in Boston as the team finished 25-57.
In Stevens’ second season, he improved the Celtics to a 40-42 record. It was not a winning record, but it was 15 more wins than the previous season and was good enough to get Boston back to the playoffs. They suffered a first-round sweep to the Cleveland Cavaliers, so there was still a lot of room for improvement.
The Celtics finished 48-34 in the next season, but still couldn’t get past the first round of the playoffs. They lost to the Hawks in six games. At least it was not a sweep like the previous season. This year, they finally got past the first-round.
Now in his fourth season, Stevens has the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. They finished first in the East with a 53-29 record. Only the Cavs stand in their way of returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. It is going to be a tough task considering LeBron James has been in the Finals the last six seasons.
Regardless of the end result, look at what Stevens has done with the team. He took them from one of the worst teams in the East to the top seed. Stevens should be right up their in the league’s top coaches along with Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr. It might finally be time for Stevens to win NBA Coach of the Year.
Stevens has the Celtics at the top of the East despite only having one All Star this season. The second-seeded Cavs have three and the third-seeded Raptors have two.
Stevens has had a short career in coaching so far with only 10 years between college and the NBA. He is also only 40 years old. He is so young and has had so much success already in the time he has had. Imagine what he can become in the future with the amount of experience Popovich has had. Also imagine what he could do with a few more star players.
They will be adding to their bright future in the offseason as they just won the NBA draft lottery. They will also have the Nets’ draft pick next season. Stevens is going to continue to get young talent to work with veterans like Thomas, Horford and Bradley for the upcoming years. It is going to be interesting to see if Boston will ever take down the Cavs.
Featured Image by NBA.com
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