When the Boston Celtics surprisingly took Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, the NBA world was decidedly split on his potential.
Writers and bloggers weighed in, with opinions ranging from “avoid at all costs,” and “do not want,” to complete confidence he’d be a star. ESPN’s analytical mage Kevin Pelton had Brown all the way down at 39th, and the metrics only portion of his draft model was even more damning; Brown ranked 101st out of all NBA-bound prospects.
Heading into just his second year, Brown’s career may be the ultimate eye test versus Analytics Crowd™ litmus test. Jaylen Brown possesses the size, speed, motor and demeanor of a bona fide NBA player, but his unimpressive college numbers (14.6 points and five rebounds per game, 43 percent shooting and reams of negative data from Them™ made him a polarizing pick.
Top pick Ben Simmons got injured and became part of #TheProcess in Philadelphia and Brandon Ingram joined the drama in Tinsel Town while Brown settled into being a cog in the non-dramatic show that was last year’s Boston Celtics. He showed flashes, like when he dunked Kris Humphries into the Netherworld:
Or when he big-boy’d LeBron James for a monster flush:
But as with most rookies, he just wasn’t impactful. Jaylen’s shot and handle were shaky while his defensive focus was inconsistent. Brown was fearless and fun, but was that work a top three pick? Could Jaylen Brown turn all that untapped potential into high-level NBA production?
The answers to those questions started with Brown’s 29-point eruption to kick off the Celtics’ Summer League. And while his preseason stats (10 points and 4 rebounds, 43 percent shooting) aren’t eye-catching, his improvements are hard to miss.
Last year, Brown got by on instincts and physical feats of wonder. In four preseason games this year, Brown played with purpose, either attacking immediately off the catch or keeping the ball moving, goosing the offense along.
If last season was fraught with reckless headlong drives into the teeth of defenses for turnovers, now, he’s stepping into transition three-pointers and curling off screens for tidy floaters.
His handle still has plenty of room for growth, but it’s visibly tighter with more control. Most importantly, where he played last season with a constant crackle of energy at 100 miles per hour at all times, Brown now plays with a confidence and pace we hadn’t seen from him.
In the Boston Celtics’ final preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets, Jaylen Brown was everywhere.
On one play he was draining a three-pointer just five seconds into a possession, and the next he was off ball, directing rookie Jayson Tatum to space out to the baseline so he could cut into space for an Al Horford pass, zipping into the lane and earning two free throws.
He filled the lane on the break, rocketing up the court and finishing at the rim through contact; then, later, stopped at the wing to drain a transition three-pointer.
Jaylen Brown won’t turn 21 until later this month. As far as potential, the sky seems to be the limit. For a team walking the tightrope between developing quality youth—the Celtics have seven players age 23 or younger, including four rookies who could see rotation minutes—and competing now (Boston’s “Big Three,” are 25, 27 and 31), Brown’s versatility will be vital to the Celtics’ position-less revolution.
Head Coach Brad Stevens has 10 players 6-foot-6 or taller to cycle through his rotation. Toss in the mutant ability of 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart to guard power forwards and some centers, and visions of the Celtics deploying five-man lineups capable of switching every ball screen on defense with zero concerns about mismatches start dancing.
Here’s a snapshot of the type of impact Brown can have this year: in the third quarter with Boston up big, here’s Jaylen locked in, staying step-for-step with photon-quick Kemba Walker, blocking his jumper as the shot clock expired. Moments later, Brown picks up 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams in the post, holding his position while William grinds and spins to no avail, with Brown blocking his jump hook.
— Scouts Honor (@ScoutsHonorBall) October 12, 2017
The world is starting to pay attention:
Jaylen Brown guarding Kemba Walker and then Marvin Williams is one of the reasons I love Jaylen so much. Back to back blocks.
— Dave DuFour (@DaveDuFourNBA) October 12, 2017
Like the final score, Brown’s preseason numbers don’t tell the whole story. After posting a -1.6 net on/off rating last season, the +11.5 he posted for the preseason (yeah, I know, tiny sample size) ranks first out of the 51 players from last year’s draft class who played at least 10 minutes a game in at least three preseason games.
Even after adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, questions abound about how the new-look Celtics will mesh, and where they fit in the NBA power structure. Teams like the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and even the Cleveland Cavaliers benefited from bringing in star power too.
The onus is on Stevens to craft a potent enough attack to keep pace with the league’s heavy hitters, and Jaylen Brown’s rapidly expanding all-around game will be essential ammunition in the NBA’s arms race.