How Brad Stevens' Butler System Translates to the Boston Celtics

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 25, 2013

WALTHAM, MA - JULY 5: New Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is introduced to the media July 5, 2013 in Waltham, Massachusetts. Stevens was hired away from Butler University where he led the Bulldogs to two back to back national championship game appearances in 2010, and 2011.  (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Moving from mid-major competition straight to the pros calls for tweaks in the playbook on a nightly approach.

The Celtics aren't going to look like the Butler Bulldogs, but based on Stevens' strengths as a coach and the makeup of this team, there's some chemistry here to build with. 

In terms of his philosophy, Stevens has always been regarded as a master preparer. His game plan varies based on matchups.

But Butler has always had the same identity—Stevens has just allowed it take on multiple personalities. 

He adapts to what he's given without straying too far from his basic principles. 

Stevens never had a specific style of play except for grind-it-out, half-court basketball. This past season, Butler ranked No. 219 nationally in tempo, according's advanced statistics. In fact, in six years as head coach, Stevens never had a team that cracked the top 200.

The Celtics, according to ESPN's Hollinger stats, ranked No. 17 in the NBA in pace, so they should be familiar with scoring when the game is slowed down.

Stevens is methodical with his offense. A set can go on for 25 seconds before it runs out of options. Butlers' 2010 Final Four team was ranked No. 5 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. 

Patience, discipline and execution are the name of the game in Stevens' offense. Like Doc Rivers, Stevens is clever with his X's and O's. 

Offensive Sets

Stevens has a number of preferred sets he likes to run in order to create open shots. They're designed to put players in a position to make a play, whether it's isolating a big man in the post or giving a guard a driving angle. 


Butler upset the No. 1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers early last season in a fantastic game they pulled out in overtime. In crunch time, Stevens ran this stretch set for crucial possessions. It allowed Butler to give its best player, Rotnei Clarke, the ball with space to operate and make a high-percentage play. 

A popular set at every level, including the NBA, Stevens spreads his wings in the corners and bigs in the paint. This gives the point guard extra room to work. 

From here, the ball-handler is in a playmaker position. Stevens can allow him to work one-on-one in an attempt to beat his man and draw a help defender. 

For this particular play, Stevens called for a high-ball screen with a big man who can shoot it. 

The Celtics frequently ran out high-ball screens for Rajon Rondo, which is something Stevens is likely to continue calling. 

Given the open court he has to work with, Rondo's quickness and craftiness off the dribble makes him difficult to contain on the perimeter.

Rondo and Kelly Olynyk, Boston's promising pick-and-pop rookie center, could thrive playing the two-man game in this set.

Butler converted on the same play later in overtime, spreading three players out at the baseline and sending the big man out for a ball screen.

This time, the ball-handler uses the screen and hesitation dribble to penetrate and get to the rack. 

Flex Offense

The flex offense, which is popular at the college level, is predicated on ball movement, screens and motion. Jerry Sloan is most famous for using it in the pros. 

It's an offense that sees constant action with a variety of different options and Plan Bs to fall back on. 

Below, Butler goes into the flex offense by using cross screens (or flex cuts) and spacing to isolate Matt Howard, their top post player, in his sweet spot with room to operate. 

If the defense is able to take away Howard in the post, Butler could then reverse it, where more down-screening action and movement is ready to take place.

The ball keeps moving until a mismatch or open shot is finally found. 

You can expect Jeff Green to play a huge role in this offense. At 6'9'', he's got the size of a 4 and the skill set of a 3. Green should see a number of favorable matchups that coach Stevens will try and exploit.

And by trading Paul Pierce, the Celtics lost their top shot-creator. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Stevens implement some flex sets into Boston's offense to help open up some scoring opportunities. 

Box Set 

Stevens likes to run box sets, which run a number of quick-hitter plays to set up open looks and jumpers. 

The offense sets up like a box with a man at each corner of the key. 

In this case, the guard at the far low block circles around the top of the key, gets a screen from the high-post man and cuts to the near wing. 

Once he gets the ball, the initial far-post screener follows and sets a ball screen before slipping into space for the open pick-and-pop.

With big men like Olynyk, Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers, Stevens should have some of these box sets ready to go.


College isn't the NBA, where you can put the ball in a guy's hands and expect him to go get you a bucket.

Coaches need to rely on play-calling and their teams' ability to execute. This is where Stevens' teams typically shine.

Like Rivers used to do in Boston, Steven can draw up some pretty impressive stuff with a clipboard. Within a play, each player needs to do their part, whether it's being a decoy in the corner or setting an important screen.

Take a look at a little misdirection play Stevens uses to pick up an easy half-court bucket. 

While the ball is moving on one side, the back screen is happening on the other, hence the misdirection. But the play was made possible by Butler's ability to draw Wisconsin's big man away from the rim.

This is really all about recognition and setting an effective screen. Butler timed the play beautifully and executed it to perfection.

Without Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics will be looking to pick up as many easy buckets as possible. And Stevens' mind, playbook and point guard should allow them to do so.

Defensive Rebounding 

One of the great qualities about most Brad Stevens teams is that they clean the defensive glass. KenPom has Butler's defense ranked No. 11 in the country in opponent offensive-rebounding rate. Butler has been ranked in the top 20 three times since 2010 and at 40 or better since 2009. 

Without Garnett, Stevens is likely to put a large emphasis on defensive rebounding. This is an area where the rookie Olynyk needs to improve and one that Sullinger must establish his presence in.

The Fit

Throughout his time at Butler, Stevens has mostly stuck to a man-to-man defense. Offensively, there's nothing spectacularly unusual about his system. There are no surprises or special tricks Stevens has in his bag on either side of the ball. 

He seems to have a counter for everything and a sense that smells weakness. Stevens has the right plays for right moment for the right people.

No system or defensive scheme is going to make this Boston team a contender in 2013-14. But Stevens' savvy game-planning and organization-first approach should be a great long-term addition and fit with this team.

If Rondo can remain patient, he and Stevens could probably pull off some pretty magical stuff on the offensive end.   


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