Intellectual Theft: Brad Stevens

13 NBA teams will be entering the 2013-2014 season with a new head coach. Each of those coaches will face unique challenges, but should be able to draw on a pool of experience from their previous jobs. Intellectual Theft is a series looking at some specific elements that each coach can bring from their last job to their new team. Today’s focus is former Butler University and current Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

Our next intellectual thief post is a spin on the series, as Brad Stevens will not be stealing offensive strategies from the head coach he was working under but from his tenure in the collegiate ranks. NBA teams have the ability to watch Butler tape to see what kind of tendencies Stevens has but he will have to tailor these for the more advanced NBA games. Offensively, he can bring some sets to the Celtics but he may have to come up with a whole new defensive system for NBA teams.


With the current construction of the Celtics roster, Stevens will most likely give Kelly Olynyk plenty of playing time early in the season to see if his summer league performance can translate to the regular season. Last season at Gonzaga, Olynyk’s go to offensive move was posting up, where he was one of the most efficient collegiate players as he showed tremendous poise and footwork with his back to the basket.

Against NBA players, Olynyk will likely struggle replicating the same success he had against the smaller, weaker college defenders. One way that Stevens can help is to get Olynyk (and his other post players) the ball in prime position for them to succeed. While at Butler, Stevens regularly had some of the best teams in terms of post production, despite not having great interior athletes.

There were several ways that Stevens designed his offensive sets to get the ball on the block. He had players screen across the paint, diagonal to the high post and had players cut from different spots on the floor, including the high post. The highlighted action will look at how Stevens can get post players open out of the ball screen.

This first set is a simple ball screen set on the wing by Matt Howard. While the play is designed as a ball screen, the ball handler does not look for his own offense but swings the ball to his left after dribbling off the screen. As this ball screen is occurring, a Butler player cuts to the corner to receive the pass from the ball handler to make the post entry pass.


Meanwhile, Howard dove immediately to the block which gave him the edge against his defender as he was able to gain position for the entry pass. With the defense having to respect the screening action, this gives Howard the opportunity to get to the block for his post up, the primary option of this play.


Howard now has the defense on his back in great position on the block. Although he is undersized in this matchup, the position he gained because of the action before the post up allows him to get a good look at the rim. Even average footwork will be able to get past most defenders with this position.

Butler ran a variation of this set with a double ball screen into a post up. The second screener then opens up after the screen to receive the pass to make the post entry.


Instead of cutting to the corner, the Butler player sets the second screen in the ball screen and then makes his cut. This forces his defender to respect the ball screen, even though the play is not designed for the guard. It makes guarding this cut more difficult, as his defender has to defend the screening action and the cut, instead of just the cut.

Again, the purpose is to get Howard position in the post and the screening action does a nice job of forcing the defense to move before Howard sneaks into post position.

Stevens could work something similar into the Celtics offense, to help out his post players gain great position on the block, including Olynyk. This could help his team get some easy buckets close to the rim and help build Olynyk’s confidence against NBA defenses. It remains to be seen whether Olynyk will be an effective NBA post player but this is one way to help him succeed.


Butler was a strong defensive team under Stevens, as they ranked as high as 5th in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency in 2010 with their lowest numbers posted in 2008 and 2013, where they ranked 51st in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to They were a great three point defensive team but looking at the video, they gave up many open shots and relied on the offensive players to miss these shots.

This was most evident when Butler was defending the pick and roll, where their rotations often left shooters open. Their defense was an designed to be an amoeba, with all parts moving together to surround the ball. On the pick and roll, they used the screener’s defender to swarm the ball handler while the rest of the defense rotated heavily to cover the hedging defender’s man.

Butler did a nice job of rotating over to the roll man, as you can see below. Howard was smart enough to see the proper rotation and rotate over to cover Smith’s man. However, with three people guarding two on the perimeter, this leaves the corner player open and two easy passes finds him open for a corner three.


While UConn cannot convert this opportunity and the corner three is not that much better of a shot in college (as the three point line is the same distance the whole way around), this shows that Stevens’ defensive strategies against the pick and roll may not translate to the NBA. The NBA guards will feast on these hard doubles if the Celtics bring them on a regular basis, as they will pick apart the defense even if proper rotations are made by the defense. Role players will feast on these corner threes that the Butler team was happy to give up and professional players will make the Celtics pay for this strategy. While this was an acceptable shot for the defense to give up in college, allowing it on a regular basis in the NBA will not be a good move for the defense.


More than likely, Stevens will tailor his pick and roll defense to guard the strengths of a NBA offense. If he tries to use a similar approach with the Celtics, with a hard hedge each time, leaving the defense exposed for a corner three, NBA offenses will light up the scoreboard against the Celtics.

While some of Stevens’ offensive strategies will be able to translate to the professional level, he’ll most likely have to change up his defense, starting with the pick and roll strategies. It will be interesting to see whether he adapts the traditional NBA strategies or if he brings his own flair to the Celtics. One thing is certain though; he will put in the necessary time and effort to design an offensive and defensive gameplan that fits a NBA game.


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