By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
DALLAS — When the Boston Celtics play the Miami Heat on Wednesday, it will be the 69th game of Brad Stevens‘ maiden season as an NBA bench boss.
That’s already essentially one-third of his six-year body of work — 215 regular-season and postseason tournament games — as the coach at Butler. Of the 13 first-year NBA coaches this season, Stevens is the only one making the leap from the college game and thus is the lone coach breaking into the rigors of the 82-game regular-season march. Ten first-timers served as NBA assistants. Cleveland coach Mike Brown had head coaching experience and Brooklyn’s Jason Kidd retired last season after a 19-year playing career.
If players in their first year out of college hit a rookie wall, what about coaches in their first year out of college? Not really, Stevens, 37, said. Although he noted the excessive losing in this so-far 22-46 season throws up its own kind of wall. At Butler, he won no fewer than 22 games and four times won at least 27 games. He lost 49 games combined, or 8.2 on average per season.
Particularly taxing this season, he said, is losing on the road, where the Celtics are 8-25. Monday night’s loss at Dallas cemented an 0-15 road mark against West teams, making this squad the only one in franchise history to go winless on the road against the West. In college, you flew back to campus and crawled into your own bed. Now it’s late-night flights to the next destination, beginning preparations for the next opponent, busing to the team hotel and finally setting the alarm clock for an early morning buzzer.
“It’s tough to lose,” Stevens said.”The flight feels a little bit different if you win. You sleep a little bit more soundly; you sleep with one eye open when you don’t win. Hey, it’s a miserable deal, right? Unfortunately we’ve experienced a lot of losses this year, so we’ve had more nights like that than the happy flights.”
What else has taken some getting used to?
“The lack of practice time is a little bit eye-opening, but the biggest thing is just the extra possessions in a game,” Stevens said. “It’s 50 more times Kevin Durant can touch the ball, 50 more times Anthony Davis can touch the ball, Dirk Nowitzki can touch the ball.”
Of course the college game is 40 minutes compared to 48 minutes in the NBA, so naturally there are more possessions at the pro level. Fifty more possessions is a bit high, but not by all that much. Stevens’ Bulldogs averaged about 66 possessions per game in his last two seasons there. His Celtics average about 96 possessions and that only ranks 17th in the league.
“What’s really amazing are the level of some of those guys,” Stevens said. “Some of those guys are at such a high level that even compared with the 350 best players in the world, they’re on a level way, way up there.”
It’s enough to make a rookie coach have plenty of nights when he’s sleeping with one eye open.