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Jaylen Brown: the smart pick for the Boston Celtics

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Jaylen Brown may be the smartest and most interesting draft prospect in years. But is he the smartest pick the Celtics can make at this year’s NBA Draft?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

"I'm a student in the classroom. I'm a student on the court, and I'm a student of life." - Jaylen Brown

The studious Jaylen Brown is possibly the most interesting NBA Draft prospect in years. The small forward has, by far, the most unique skill set and diverse toolkit of his entire draft class. He possesses several advantages that are almost unteachable and shows a wide array of intangible abilities.

It has been reported that Brown will be coming in for a second workout with Boston, which is a good sign that the Celtics are interested.

With a fully formed basketball body, he has the perfect measurements for the modern NBA. At 6’7" with a wide wingspan, Brown is an ideal prospect for basketball’s current obsession with so-called positionless players.

Yet outside of his physical tools and obvious athleticism, Brown has gained a lot of attention for his perceived intelligence. The one-and-done prospect coming out of the University of California, Berkeley supposedly chose his school more for their academic record than their basketball programme—a rare move for an NBA hopeful.

But besides his innate intelligence and athletic ability, Brown has been described as a polarizing prospect. Some teams are allegedly concerned not only about Brown’s existing in-game weaknesses but also about the young player’s supposed strengths. At least one NBA assistant coach, quoted in a piece by Marc J Spears on ESPN's The Undefeated, suggested that Brown’s intelligence was more of a sticking point for teams than a selling point for the prospect.

For the Celtics, there is a lot of potential to develop Brown within their system to be a real force on the parquet floor. He has superstar upside and has developed defensive acumen. He is explosive on the fastbreak, running the court and leaping toward the hoop with the grace of a gazelle and the power of a juggernaut.

However, for Boston to bite at Brown they would have to be confident he can develop his jumper, as well as other aspects of his game. The Celtics were one of the worst three-point-shooting teams in the league last season, so using their highest draft pick in over a decade on a wing who lacks long-range shooting could be seen as questionable.

If the Celtics were to select Brown at the three spot in the upcoming draft, it would have to be part of a long-term strategy. Strategy is something that Jaylen Brown, chess enthusiast, knows all about. The precocious player has made several comments to indicate that he is often thinking several moves ahead, looking for a possible checkmate. When asked about the likelihood of being picked high in the draft Brown showed that he is already thinking far into the future, saying "I’m not concerned with being a top-five pick in the draft. I want to be a top-five player in the league."

Some have suggested that these types of comments are indicative of Brown’s arrogance. But with both his mental and physical tools Brown could very well develop into one of the NBA’s best players, if he lands in the right situation.

Innate intelligence and athletic ability

Jaylen Brown’s athletic ability and physicality are some of the most developed in this draft. At the age of only nineteen he already has the body of an NBA player of more advanced years. He is fast, strong, and has the leaping ability of an Olympic-level high-jumper (or the dunktastic Aaron Gordon.) Just watch as he runs this fastbreak like a fiend, crossing the court in under four seconds.

He is also a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, able to out-hustle players who are bigger than him and out-muscle smaller players. On the offensive end, Brown can bully his way to the basket, and on the other side of the court his defensive awareness is simply amazing for a player of his age.

For all his upside, Brown also has more weaknesses in his game than you would usually see from a projected top-tier draft prospect. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, he hasn’t shown the ability shoot the ball particularly well, with his shot chart looking like a sea of red. Also, he has a tendency to turn the ball over on a regular basis, and he makes poor decisions on the offensive end of the court, often choosing to drive to the bucket instead of distributing effectively to teammates.

However his additional advantage of having a seemingly high IQ should not be underestimated. When listing Brown’s achievements, it becomes clear he’s not just an impressive NBA Draft prospect—he is actually an impressive individual all around.

Brown maintains a range of scholarly pursuits. The nineteen-year-old is basically fluent in Spanish and says he wishes to learn at least two more languages before he turns twenty-five. He also plays the guitar, is essentially a vegetarian for both ethical and health reasons, is a fan of football (not the NFL but the so-called ‘world game’ known as soccer), was the captain of his high school chess team, and continued to study chess at college.

Beyond the above interests, he took classes at Cal Berkeley on global poverty and practice as well as writing a twenty-page paper on how institutionalised sports impact America’s education system, which was well received by teaching staff. The professor for his graduate level course, Derek Van Rheenan, said of Brown, "It’s not just that he wants to be an excellent basketball player, he wants to be a scholar."

A polarizing prospect

Despite all of these positive signs, Jaylen Brown, is frequently described as a polarizing prospect, with some seeing Brown’s intelligence and ambition as indicative of an arrogance to his character. Still others have said this assessment is unfounded and is at least in part due to racial bias, with African-American athletes of intelligence frequently perceived as arrogant instead of simply as capable and confident.

Brown himself has said that he wishes to challenge the general perception that people with his physical gifts are incapable of maintaining scholarly ambitions also. Even still it has been suggested that Brown may well be "too smart for the league."

Personally, I would reject the notion that Brown is too intelligent to play basketball and the concept that a professional basketball player can’t maintain interests outside the game. In the right environment, say with a highly intelligent and relatable coach (like, oh I don’t know, maybe Brad Stevens), Brown’s precocious nature could be of benefit on and off the court.

It is also worth noting that Brown’s main weakness is supposedly his shooting, yet it’s certainly possible that Brown’s shooting woes are somewhat exaggerated as well as being exasperated by the specifics of his situation while playing at Cal. It also seems these issues should be easy to overcome considering Brown's work ethic, intelligence and physical abilities.

Team fit and possible upside

Brown would need time to develop his game wherever he ends up, like any rookie. However, on the Celtics it may prove difficult to find playing time for a wing who lacks shooting ability.

Although physically very different, Jaylen Brown and Isaiah Thomas both attack the basket in very similar ways, meaning both require additional shooters around them to help draw out defences and create space in the paint.

What’s more, the Celtics seem currently comfortable with Jae Crowder in the starting spot as a small forward and, depending on how free agency goes, have Evan Turner as a back-up for this position as well.

That said, Turner (provided he does return next season) tends to play in more of a point guard position as the primary ball-handler for the second unit, leaving the small forward position undermanned. Also, due to his physical gifts, Brown may be better suited to alternate between the small forward and power forward positions than Crowder is, which would grant the Celtics additional versatility in their frontcourt lineups.

Nonetheless, the mantra of ‘Best Player Available’ dictates that if Brown is the third-best prospect in this draft then the Celtics should take him regardless of fit or need and figure out the rest later.

Like a very fast-paced game of chess

In many ways, basketball could be seen as an extremely fast-paced game of chess. This isn’t my own analogy but one explored in a 2009 NBA playoffs promotional video that compares the two games. The most important link is pretty simple though—both games require strategy and intelligence in order to win.

Such an analogy certainly bodes well for Jaylen Brown, a player who has already indicated a high level of intelligence off the court. Even though he often fails to display the same high IQ in-game as he seems to show in the classroom much of what Jaylen Brown lacks is very teachable and he has already shown a willingness to learn and a drive to be better.

It was chess champion Emanuel Lasker who said, "If you see a good move, look for a better one." Right now I don’t see many better moves on the board than picking Jaylen Brown. The young player has shown intelligence, ability and a physicality few can match. He has superstar upside and possesses all the tools to become an all-time great.

With all the pieces on the board, now is the time for the Celtics to make their move.