Stevens puts C's at front of analytics movement

Stevens puts C's at front of analytics movement
July 5, 2013, 5:45 pm
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(AP Photo)

WALTHAM, MA -- Brad Stevens looks more like a college professor - make that college grad assistant - than he does a basketball coach, let alone an NBA head coach.

To be at the pinnacle of the coaching profession at the youthful age of 36, speaks to how he has fast-tracked his way up the coaching rungs where he now stands as the Boston Celtics' head coach.

And his success is about using any and all tools at his disposal.

Among his favorites?

Numbers.

Stevens' unprecedented success at Butler University - he won more games in his first six seasons than any coach in NCAA Division I men's basketball history - was in part to his use of advanced statistics better known by its more general description as analytics.

While analytics have been a part of more than half of the teams in the NBA, college programs have gradually phased it into their game preparation and scouting.

Stevens took it a step further in hiring a graduate manager whose sole responsibility was to gather as much analytical data, such as the shooting percentage of certain players driving the ball to their left versus to their right, or the likely best matchups at different intervals during a game which helps in terms of figuring out which combinations to play.

"At the end of the day, anything that can help you be successful or help a player be successful, get the most out of them, I think is a really good thing," Stevens told CSNNE.com on Friday. "I don't know if I consciously embraced it. That's just kind of how my mind works. I really enjoy that side of things."

So do the Celtics, one of the first NBA teams to incorporate the use of analytics on a relatively wide scale basis.

Mike Zarren, the C's assistant general manager, salary cap expert and huge fan and user of analytics, understands all too well that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to the use of analytics.

"It varies drastically by staff, how important those things are," Zarren told CSNNE.com. "But there's clearly information that you can get that wasn't available previously so we try to get it."

And it has worked both on the floor as well as in helping the C's in preparing for various drafts.

The use of analytics was part of what into the Celtics having Rajon Rondo rated among the top seven or eight prospects in the 2006 NBA draft, although most mock drafts and experts had him ranked significantly lower.

Boston pulled off a draft-night trade for Rondo with Phoenix, which selected him with the No. 21 pick.

Rondo has been named to four all-star teams, more than any other player from his draft class.

Stevens has talked with Zarren about analytics briefly, and said he's "stoked" to have more in-depth discussions in the near future.

While Zarren understands the value of analytics, the hiring of Stevens was about more than his ability to make the most of some crunched-up numbers.

"The most important thing is if he's a good coach," Zarren said. "He's just been so successful, it's hard to argue with his success. I'm glad he wants to look at every piece of information he can get his hands off."