Brad Stevens’ Defensive DNA and 6
Non-Negotiables To Success

By Daniel Benjamin

Brad Stevens is/has been considered to be one of the top young basketball coaches in the country for several years. The 39-year old has been a head coach for nine years with the last three being with the Boston Celtics.

Prior to coaching the Celtics, Stevens was head coach at Butler University where he broke the NCAA record for most wins in a coach's first three-years. He also became the youngest coach in Division I history to lead his team to the national championship game in back-to-back seasons when he guided the Bulldogs to consecutive runners-up finishes in 2010 and 2011.

Overall, Stevens compiled a 166-49 record in his six years at Butler. He led the Bulldogs to five NCAA appearances three Horizon League Tournament titles and two-30 win campaigns. Stevens was an assistant with Butler starting from 2001-2007.

Stevens is currently working on rebuilding the Celtics. After going 25-57 in his first NBA season, Stevens led the Celtics to a surprising 40-42 record and a playoff appearance last year.

3 Core Principles Of Brad Stevens' Coaching Philosophy / Style

Stevens' coaching philosophy centers around three core principles of commitment, selflessness and team unity.

Stevens is known for being calm and focused while on the sidelines – during games, you often see him quietly observing the action with his arms folded. Stevens rarely gets upset with an official's call or a mistake by a player, rather he prefers to focus on "the next play".

He is said to be very open and honest with his players while also holding them accountable for their actions. He talks to his players about embracing the process of growth -- in other words, the need to focus on how to get better every day in order to succeed later.

Stevens is a big believer in preparation and spends lots of time breaking down game tape as well as using statistical analytics.

Stevens’ teams are generally focused around fundamentals and team-oriented basketball with a primary emphasis on defense.

Since Stevens has been in Boston, the Celtics' defense has improved.

Defensive Efficiency (Points Per 100 Possessions)

2013/14 - 105.2 (Ranked 20th)
2014/15 - 102.1 (Ranked 12th)
2015/16 - 100.6 (Ranked 4th through 68 games)

Brad Stevens’ Defensive DNA and 6 Non-Negotiables To Success

The rest of the article will take a look at Stevens’ defensive philosophy.

Stevens broke his philosophy down to six parts or what he calls the DNA of defense. Stevens DNA consists of commitment, positioning, prioritizing, awareness execution/technique and completion.

1. Commitment

First and most importantly, players need to be committed to your system. Commitment starts with the right mindset, which should be believing in what you are doing, doing their job and being a great teammate. If you can get your players to believe, you can establish a Defensive DNA.

A good technique to keep your team interested/committed in your defensive system is to challenge them statistically.

For example, say who routinely hold your opponents to 45% shooting from the field set a goal to hold them to under 40% percent in your next game. Generally speaking your defensive field goal percentage drops 2% for every stop you get that would mean that you would need three more stops than normal.

2. Positioning

The first step in attaining the proper position is to get back on defense to stop any transition buckets. Four keys to halting any transition offense: stay in front of the ball, protect the basket, pick up the basketball and, last but not least, find the good shooters as so many teams are shooting three’s in transition.

The next step is deciding how you want to defend the ball relative to where you are on the court. Do you want to play straight up, double-team, switch screens or blitz the screen, etc..

The last step in position is the close out.

The proper technique in closing out is to take three steps, then break down (chop your feet) with your hands up (remember hand down, man down) and close out to the shooter’s dominant hand.

Remember that close outs are dependent on personnel, you want to close tight or fly by great shooters while you want to close out loosely on great drivers so you don’t get beat off the dribble.

3. Prioritizing

The goal on defense is to Stop The Other Team From Scoring!! Scouting gives you hints on how to do this.

Stevens preaches “regenerative leadership” as in having older players spread the culture to the younger players and the younger players doing the same when they become the elder statesmen.

4. Awareness

Stevens believes that awareness is a big part of defense and can help a marginal athlete to become a very good defender – more so than a great athlete with marginal awareness – which I completely agree with.

He has four levels of competency.

  • Unconsciously Incompetent – You don’t know what you don’t know.

  • Consciously Incompetent – You know you have no clue.

  • Consciously Competent – You know what’s going on.

  • Unconsciously Competent - You begin to see things before they happen. You can rely on your habits because of how many times you’ve done it before.

When players get to this stage they should be given mature “freedom” to make reads.

Some awareness in players is natural but a lot can develop in practice, drills and habits. Another big part of awareness comes from the players who are defending or what the other team is running.

5. Execution/Technique

Execution and technique are the backbones of any good defense. Technique is easy to improve with individuals, the execution is the difficult part.

Boxing out is all execution/technique. Players that are good at boxing out care about it and know the importance of it.

There are multiple theories of how to box out. It all depends on what you believe in. For example, you could have your less mobile players hold the box and then go after the ball and have your mobile players just hit the offensive player and then go after the ball.

As a coach, you need to be consistent in your approach and practice.

Your system must be flexible and capable of guarding everything that an offense can throw at a you.

6. Completion

In the end, it is all about “finishing” the play. You can do everything right but don’t grab the rebound or catch an errant pass. There is a good chance your opponent will capitalize on the extra opportunity.

One final important reminder: Your team is never too far away from being great, and never too far away from being bad.

Related Pages & Resources

Brad Steven’s Drill: 3 Plus 2-On-2 Plus 3

Brad Steven’s Drill: 3-on-3 Free Throw Line To Three-point Line


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Coach K says:
4/8/2016 at 12:29:47 PM

Best coach around IMHO, would love a coaching DVD.


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