When you’re a top-five pick, you’re bound to draw a comparison to a great player. “So-and-so is the next Larry Bird.” “He’s got LeBron’s athleticism.” Such comparisons are an unfair burden for a young rookie, particularly a teenager that only spent a year playing college ball.
Jaylen Brown has said that his childhood idols were Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant. He’s been likened to a young Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook. This summer, he worked out with Jimmy Butler. The Celtics would be ecstatic if their prized rookie turned into a Hall of Famer, but they know that it’s a long road of development for the nineteen-year-old. At this point, they’re not even sure of his potential, let alone his ceiling.
Most teams would give a potential franchise player all the minutes he could handle. Karl Anthony-Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Jahlil Okafor all averaged nearly 30 minutes a game in their rookie seasons, but don’t expect that kind of workload for Brown. Unless he breaks out early, the Celtics will take a tempered approach to his development and instead use his current skill set to help win games.
He’s been billed as an NBA-ready defender, but we saw a small glimpse of what Brown can do on offense in the Green vs. White scrimmage on Friday night. With his superior size and speed, he’s built to be a versatile wing in Stevens’s offense. Since Media Day, all his coaches and teammates have impressed on Brown’s athleticism and ability to operate on the wing.
When asked who Brown reminded him of, Jae Crowder said the Pistons’ Stanley Johnson:
"Just how he attacks the rim, how he gets downhill and uses his body very well in the paint," Crowder added. "Stanley has a big body and ... he just knows how to take angles and get downhill on a defender."
In the team scrimmage, Brown got a few downhill looks coming off screens:
The Celtics have been looking for that type of slasher since Jeff Green’s departure (and, well, during Green’s inconsistent tenure in Boston). Brown has improved his handle since his freshman year at Cal. He won’t be able to probe like Evan Turner, but his shiftiness adds a dimension to his raw game. However, my suspicion is that he won’t do too much creating off the dribble. With Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford playmaking in the starting lineup and Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier acting as primary ball handlers with the second unit, Brown’s opportunites won’t come that differently than Crowder’s.
Crowder has found success in the read-and react offense using his size to explode to the rim like a running back. With ball movement shifting the defense side to side and ball handlers forcing opposing teams to retreat, Crowder has found driving lanes on the swing. It’s those kind of holes that Brown will need to hit, too.
CelticsBlog reader IanMello pointed out in a comments section that Brown’s ability to get to the line will be a much-needed dimension in the Celtics’ offense. When he comes in to finish off quarters for the starters, opposing teams will be close to or already in the penalty. Those are perfect circumstances for Brown to take advantage of. At Berkeley, Brown had a free throw rate of .574. In summer league play, it was 0.7. Those are small sample sizes, but for comparison sake, Isaiah Thomas led the team last year at .394.
Brown’s game won’t be this limited as he gets used to the NBA game, though. He’ll work on his jump shot. He’ll figure out how to change speeds. All that will come with time. But for now, his role on this Celtics team won’t be too different than one of his role models, Jae Crowder. If you haven’t already fallen in love with Crowder and/or Brown, check out ESPNBoston’s Chris Forsberg’s sit-down with Jaylen. Interestingly, Crowder has been the one praising Brown despite his seniority in the league and in the lineup.
"He’s everything that I wanted to be at that age," said Crowder. "He’s very mature, beyond his years. He’ll have a conversation with you about anything. I like that, personally. I don’t always want to talk about basketball. I want a guy that I can go be at home with and just chill and talk about anything. He loves music, just like me. He’s into music, he makes beats and stuff like that. I just wanted to get to know him a little bit more."
Few have jumped on the Jaylen Brown hype train. His selection on Draft Day was welcomed with equal parts confusion and disappointment, but this is a guy whose Twitter handle is an acronym for "faith, consistency, and hard work pay off.” He’ll no doubt have a handful of loud dunks over the next three weeks that will get some people on board, but his numbers won’t jump off the page. I’m a big believer that Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens prioritize character over perceived upside. After Brown was drafted, Stevens praised his work ethic saying, “...his tempo was really good, which usually is a good indicator that he’s gonna make progress with his work, because he understands how to work the right way.” His rookie year might start off with a slow burn, but his future is certainly bright.