Coaches Corner: Brad Stevens
The Boston Celtics head coach since the 2013-14 NBA season, Brad Stevens has led the Celtics to the 2017, 2018 and 2020 Eastern Conference Finals, and through the 2019-20 season, he owns a 318-246 record with Boston (.564 winning percentage). He also served as the 2017 NBA All-Star Game Eastern Division head coach and was named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for February 2016.
Stevens began his coaching career at Butler University, where he was the men’s basketball assistant coach from 2001-02 to 2006-07 and the head coach from 2007-08 through 2012-13. As the Butler head coach, he compiled a 166-49 record (.772).
At Butler, Stevens was the 2009 and 2010 Horizon League Coach of the Year, and he led the Bulldogs to the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Final Four. In his first season at the helm in 2007-08, he earned 30 wins and became the NCAA’s fourth-winningest first-year coach.
He went on to become the sixth head coach in NCAA history to reach 50 wins in 56 games or fewer in his second year, which he achieved in his second year. In his third year, he set the NCAA record for most wins (89) by a head coach in his first three seasons.
Stevens also served as an assistant coach for the USA Basketball team at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen, China.
USA Basketball spoke with Stevens to get his insight and perspective on coaching.
How does your approach to practices or your team change as you move into the middle part of the season?
Well, it changes dramatically compared to college. I think when I look back at the college time, when you have four, sometimes five days before you play a game, you are very focused on keeping practice fresh, balancing making your team better versus preparing for the next opponent, really diving into the next opponent, all the things that go into playing really well on a Thursday or Friday. When you're here, in the NBA, you most often have one day, sometimes no days between games. I think the way that you prep and the way that you practice really varies guy to guy. The guys that play a little bit less have more small-group work with the other guys that played a little less to maintain their conditioning, to maintain their growth throughout the course of the season and prepare for their time whenever their number is called. The guys that play more have to do a lot more prep and practice over very short bursts on the court. And then film work, treatment work, extra strength work, extra body work. And that's all much more individualized, as far as the preparation to perform at your peak level in the pros. But you just have to utilize those times together, whether in a film room, a meeting room, a hotel ballroom, or even in the locker room on a back-to-back, you have to use those times as efficiently and precisely as possible.
Is there an overarching concept you emphasize with every team?
I think the very best teams that I've been lucky enough to be a part of all really have shown a great willingness to embrace the challenge, embrace whatever role that they have, where they can add value to winning. Those teams have all been impacted by players that play sporadically stepping up when called upon. I think it's obvious all those great teams have great players, and they all have special talents. But then you get to a point in the season, whether it's injuries, whether you just need another person to step up, whether a game plan demands it. And you know it's a great team when everybody has embraced those roles – isn't satisfied, keeps working and is committed to growing. And then you have those moments where someone steps in and fills the need at a huge moment and was able to help the team achieve something. I think that that is, to me, one of the fun signs of the great teams that I've been on.
What things do you think are most important as you build relationships with the athletes on your teams?
I think it's obviously individual with the individuals. I think you always as a coach try to improve in that area every year, because I think it's so important. You have to balance giving them their time and space, because there's so many things pulling at them and so many demands that they have on their time. At the same time, I hope that they know that they can always come in and speak to me about anything. I think the thing I always try to keep at top of mind is the importance of being happy, and it's so hard. There are so many challenges, especially in this era of COVID with all of the challenges around the world. I think that prioritizing mental wellness, prioritizing happiness is incredibly important. I'm a lot less concerned about ‘sports psychology’ and a lot more concerned that we just take care of ourselves and have a good outlook and realize we're lucky, realize we're fortunate. And at the same time, never satisfied but find a joy in this pursuit.
Offensively, is there a concept that you continually to emphasize?
Make the right play over and over. There are so many times when a right play presents itself. You could go and watch a 20-minute scrimmage in the summer, you could go to a scrimmage early in the season, you could look at a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs, and you can really look back and say was the right play made on that possession? More often than not, when you make the right play, the game rewards that. And I think that that's what we try to talk about and emphasize. That may change possession to possession, based on the personnel around you and what your own individual capabilities are, but having an awareness of all of that is really important.