Brad Stevens is a basketball mastermind.
His ability to help a team become greater than the sum of its parts is what every coach aspires to.
At Butler, Stevens led the humble mid-major to consecutive Final Four appearances.
In his current role as head coach of the Boston Celtics, Stevens has guided the franchise to four consecutive playoff appearances, including a 2018 Conference Finals run despite an injury-riddled roster.
For Stevens, good coaching is about identifying each player’s best skills and then tailoring a game plan that’ll put them in position to utilize those skills.
“Everybody is in the NBA for a reason. They have a special talent. They have a special ability. Sometimes people get put in a box of what they can’t do, instead of focusing on what they can. Our jobs are to take the 15 guys on the team, focus on what they do best, and try to help them soar with what they do best,” Stevens says in the above video from the Positive Coaching Alliance.
While you may not coach an NBA team, every player at every level has certain skills they’re better at than others. Frequently putting them in position to utilize their strongest skills results in better play, higher confidence and increased trust. On the flip side, coaches who obsess over the typical responsibilities of certain positions and refuse to get creative with their game planning create ineffective, frustrated players.
Stevens goes on to talk about how the Celtics tried to play to the strengths of Evan Turner, who signed with the team in 2014 and played in Boston for two seasons.
Of the four teams Turner’s played for during his NBA career thus far, he averaged his highest field goal percentage, highest player efficiency rating, highest number of assists per game, and highest number of steals per game with Boston.
“For Evan, we felt like we had a guy that was hungry. He was a great worker. He had a great attitude. And he was great with the ball,” Stevens said. “So we gave him the ball. We played more with him as a point guard, or a post player, than maybe an off-the-ball shooter.”
Indeed, Turner averaged 1.45 catch-and-shoot attempts per game during his time in Boston. Compare that to the 2.6 catch-and-shoot attempts per game he averaged in the 2013-2014 season prior to joining the team. Turner also possessed the ball for six or more seconds prior to just 14.9% of his field goal attempts that same season. In Bean Town? About 26.5%.
Those advanced stats indicate Turner was encouraged to handle the ball more in Boston, just as Stevens suggested. When a coach puts a player in position to play to their strengths, good things usually happen.
“I just think he put me in position to be successful,” Turner told ESPN of Stevens in 2017. “At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, there are like four or five guys in the league that are going to be superstars. The rest of the guys, sometimes you’re going to be as good as your coach thinks you are. He definitely helped me out a lot and, like I said, he put me in some positions to be successful. And I think he did that with a lot of my teammates as well. That’s a big deal.”
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