Rajon Rondo may be the face of the new era for the Boston Celtics, but behind the scenes, two great basketball minds are working cohesively to ensure that the C’s rebuilding process is efficient, fast and easy.
The aforementioned duo is comprised of GM Danny Ainge and first-year head coach Brad Stevens, and together they have created a unique and priceless dynamic. Ainge acquires cheap and under-the-radar talent–usually young and raw players–Stevens then finds a way to squeeze unexpected amounts of production from said players, at which time Ainge can either choose to keep the players on Boston’s roster, or flip them for an asset better suited for the team.
In this season alone, the pairing has already demonstrated this process with multiple players. Phil Pressey–who was signed as a free agent last summer after going undrafted–has looked fantastic as of late, demonstrating elite facilitating abilities while minimizing his turnovers. Chris Johnson has also looked very solid in his two appearances for Boston after being signed on a 10-day contract, averaging 10.0 points per contest. Even Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani–who also went undrafted–has been productive in his limited time on the court, especially on the defensive end.
Really, as much as you want to credit guys like Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger for keeping the C’s competitive (even in their losses), their stellar play can be traced back to Ainge and Stevens. Bradley was nabbed with the 19th overall pick in 2010 and Sullinger was drafted 21st in 2012. Both had shown potential prior to this season, but neither thrived under former head coach Doc Rivers, even while playing substantial roles.
Brad Stevens has been able to get the most out of them thus far. His offensive system allows nearly unlimited freedom; he has urged the Celtics’ big men to shoot from downtown when given space, and has encouraged Bradley to look for his offense right from the get-go. The results of Stevens’ ideology on the two youngsters have been overwhelmingly beneficial to their growth. Both are posting career-high numbers in the points and rebounds categories, and have had more than a handful of good games between the two of them.
While the development of Sullinger and Bradley is certainly impressive, nothing shows how deadly Stevens and Ainge can be more than the “Jordan Crawford Saga.” Crawford was originally acquired from the Washington Wizards at the 2013 trade deadline in exchange for Leandro Barbosa — who had a torn ACL– and Jason Collins.
Under Doc Rivers, Crawford barely saw any floor time. When Brad Stevens took the reigns, all that changed. Crawford stepped in at point guard in the starting lineup, and looked like a heck of a basketball player in his new role.
In 39 games with Boston, Crawford averaged 13.7 points and 5.7 assists per game. His time as the Celtics’ floor general was easily the most productive span of his career; he went from Jordan Crawford the volume shot jacker to Jordan Crawford the selective shot jacker. He wasn’t able to completely shed his reputation as a gunner, but come on…he’s Jordan Crawford.
Stevens was able to get the best out of Crawford, but that is far from the best part of this epic. Once Rondo returned and “Steez” became expendable for the Celtics, Ainge was able to work his magic and ended up swapping him with two draft picks, one a potential first rounder.
It’s no secret that Ainge is one of the better GMs in the NBA. While some decisions, specifically those involving Kendrick Perkins and/or Paul Pierce, have certainly stirred up their share of controversy at the time of their occurrence, in hindsight they appear to be justified. He has quite the eye for talent, and makes the most of his draft picks more often than not. Factoring Brad Stevens’ elite player-development abilities into the equation just adds a second head to this already terrifying front office monster.
GMs beware; their next victim could be you.