Genius Steals – From Genius
Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA — and not just now. With all due respect to Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, and the others enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, there has never been anyone as good as Pop.
He came into the league with a defense-and-rebounding pedigree, winning his first title in a way befitting of a coach who got his start at the Air Force and was leading a team captained by a guy called The Admiral. The 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs were a Department of Defense Wins Championships type of team, holding opponents to a league-best 95.1 points per 100 possessions in the regular season before going 15-2 in the playoffs on their way to a trophy.
Then he got some new, foreign-born players and started to evolve as a coach.
Manu Ginobili helped teach him to ease up on the reigns and just let greatness be great. After a few years of watching the Argentine work wonders next to Tony Parker, Pop started to get as creative as his playmakers.
Fast forward a decade and Popovich is the vanguard of a spread-offense, ball-movement movement that has turned the modern NBA into the prettiest version of basketball the world has ever known.
And while his brilliant mind for the game is at the forefront of why the “boring” Spurs are now synonymous with beautiful offense, he will be the first to tell you that he has stolen a lot of his best ideas.
Last month, he told Raul Dominguez of the Associated Press that second-year Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the latest in a long line of people he has taken from.
"Popovich readily admits “stealing” plays and strategy from opposing coaches of every level from the NBA to pee-wee basketball. He says Boston’s young coach has always been one of his favorite targets. “I had already stolen from him plenty,” Popovich acknowledged before San Antonio’s home game against Boston on Friday … “I respected how he does things and what he accomplished way before he even came in the league,” said Popovich, who was born in East Chicago, Indiana. “Whenever there was a Butler game, I always tried to watch.”"
Stevens has yet to coach an NBA playoff game — though that could change in a few weeks — so this is high praise coming from a guy who is arguably the best to ever touch a clipboard. But it doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
Any top-10 list of the league’s best coach should have Stevens on it.
He has already proven himself to be near the top of the pack by the way he has gotten this ragtag bunch of Celtics to compete all year. Despite the type of lineup changes — Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo being traded early then the team adding Isaiah Thomas — that could crack a fragmented team, Stevens has led them well all year.
And in one way, he’s a lot like Pop.
When the Celtics, with their playoff aspirations on the line, needed a bucket late this weekend against the Toronto Raptors, Stevens had just the play.
It was Monty Williams’ play.
Now, it’s likely that Monty got it from someone else, but as analyst Jeff Van Gundy noted during an ABC broadcast on Sunday, Stevens used the same play that worked for Williams and the Pelicans against the Bulls in 2013.
Though the Xs and Os were the same and the defense was equally confused, things didn’t go as smoothly for Boston. Isaiah Thomas got the ball with a head of steam just like Jrue Holiday did for the Pelicans. But Thomas lost the ball before he could get off a shot.
Fortunately for the Celtics, the rock bounced right to Marcus Smart and he was able to lay the ball up juuuuust before the final buzzer sounded.
Just like Stevens planned.
As they say: Talent imitates, genius steals. And, oh yeah, also, the more I practice, the luckier I get.
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