Nov 30, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Why Brad Stevens Deserves to be in the Coach of the Year Discussion

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Yesterday, in my NBA Daily Links post, I shared an article about five coaches who are getting things done, which really could have

Dec 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens talks with guard Jordan Crawford (27) during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

been called “Five Early Coach of the Year Candidates.”

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on that post, I have to admit: the fact that Brad Stevens is not on the list is pissing me off.

To understand why, the first thing we need to do is examine who is actually on the list: Terry Stotts (Portland Trailblazers); Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers); Mike D’Antoni (Los Angeles Lakers); Steve Clifford (Charlotte Bobcats); and Eric Spoelstra (Miami Heat).  Stotts and Clifford have every right to be on this list, as they have led their teams to surprising starts.  What’s that?  You knew the Trail Blazers would be tied for the league’s 2nd-best record at this point?  Liar.   And while the Bobcats’ 8-11 start isn’t stellar, the team is starting to resemble a competitive unit, instead of the Washington Generals, especially with the way the Cats are playing defense (4th best in the league right now).  Meanwhile, D’Antoni has the Lakers playing .500 basketball, without Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant, and with Pau Gasol leading the team in scoring at only 14 point a game. Including these coaches in the discussion for coach of the year makes sense, then . . .

. . . as opposed to Eric Spoelstra, who was handed a team built to win championships by Pat Riley and really has far less adversity to face than pretty much any other coach in the NBA.  I’m pretty sure I could coach the Heat and have a record similar to what Spoelstra has.  Am I saying he’s a bad coach?  Come on: it’s the NBA.  He can coach.  However, should he – or Frank Vogel, for that matter – be considered a candidate for coach of the year, when all they are doing is exactly what was expected?  These two have not faced any major adversity this year, so the fact that they have good teams that are winning should not put them among the top five coach of the year candidates.

My top five, then, would include Stotts and Clifford, and probably D’Antoni, but would also include Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns) and Brad Stevens.  It’s not a matter of me explaining to you why Stevens should be on this list; as matter of fact, it’s stunning that he isn’t already being discussed.  Just look at his current roster!   His best player is injured; his current starting point guard was so unpopular that he was trade for Jason Collins and an injured Leandro Barbosa; his leading scorer would really be more of a second or third option on most teams; and he has Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, for goodness sakes!   He’s not exactly enjoying the luxuries of having a roster like that of the Pacers or the Heat, now is he?  And I have not even addressed the loss of rookie Kelly Olynyk, who was literally improving before the eyes of every Boston Celtics fan.

Nov 27, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jordan Crawford (27) and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (11) battle for a loose ball during the fourth quarter at TD Garden. The Memphis Grizzlies won 100-93. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

And yet, Stevens is 8-12 and has the Celtics sitting on top of the abysmal Atlantic Division.  Better yet (because face it – first place in this division is almost like winning a booby prize in a contest), Stevens has his team playing the sort of defense that will continue to keep them competitive against the league’s better teams.  As of today, Boston is holding opponents to 45.1% from the field, 12th best in the NBA; give up only 96.8 points per game, 7th best in the league; and they actually defend the 3-ball better than anyone, allowing opponents to shoot just 32.8%.  Defense wins championships, right?  So if Stevens has this rag-tag team playing such solid team defense, why isn’t he considered an early front-runner for coach of the year?

Ah, but you want more proof, don’t you?  Fortunately, I’m on my game today!  Witness the resurrection of Jordan Crawford’s career under Stevens’ steady hand.  The Jordan Crawford who played in Washington was selfish, a ball hog who never met a shot he didn’t like, a pariah who complained to the media that he felt he should be involved in the Wizards’ offense more even after John Wall (a superior point guard) rejoined the team after recovering from an injury.  The Wizards almost literally gave Crawford to the Celtics for free, so eager were they to rid themselves his play and his attitude.

Now?  Starting in Rajon Rondo’s absence, Crawford is dishing the rock, leading all Celtics with right around five assists per game – this coming from a player who never averaged even four per game in the past three seasons.  He’s the third highest scorer on the team at 13.1 points per game, and he’s shooting the highest field goal (44.2% ) and three-point shooting (37.9% ) percentages of his career, because he is taking much better shots (the occasional 30 footers notwithstanding).   Crawford’s playing such improved basketball that, according to some sources, he may actually have become the most tradable asset that the Celtics currently have!

(Of course, the way he’s playing, the Celtics would have to be out-of-their-minds stupid to trade him this season.)

I find it hard to believe that Crawford’s resurgence occurring during Brad Stevens’ first year as the head coach of the Boston Celtics is

merely a coincidence.  Similarly, I find it hard to believe that a team that was picked to be among the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference currently sits in fourth place in the East is getting it done without any help from the guy pacing the sidelines night in and night out.  Obviously, the fact that the Atlantic Division is filled with garbage teams is helping the Celtics – but we are still discussing a team that beat the defending champs on the road, and recently held second-half leads against the Pacers and the Spurs.   This team only stands to get better once Rondo and Olynyk return, but the fact that coach Stevens has them where there right now without the services of some key players proves my point: more than Frank Vogel and Eric Spoelstra, Brad Stevens deserves to be in the conversation of who should be named the NBA Coach of the Year.

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