The Garden crowd showered owner Wyc Grousbeck with boos after Jaylen Brown was selected third in Thursday's draft. There were rumors swirling of a draft day trade involving Jimmy Butler and Nerlens Noel and most of the crowd Thursday night expected Providence guard Kris Dunn's name to be called. It wasn't. Instead, Danny Ainge selected the 6'7 forward from Cal who was anywhere from #3 to #8 in several mock drafts and left many of the faithful scratching their heads.
With news that Kevin Durant is planning on meeting with the Celtics at the start of free agency and the Danny's draft strategy a little more clear, fans are getting a better sense of the team's off-season plans, but that doesn't alleviate concerns over Brown and his underwhelming freshman season. Let's address the first knock: he can't shoot. Kevin has some of his numbers from Cal and his senior year in high school over at CSNNE:
Brown shot 29.4 percent from downtown as a freshman, which isn't good, but it came on a small sample of just 102 shot attempts. Going back to high school, he attempted 130 threes in competitions over the 2014-15 season and shot 40.8 percent. Does that mean he's a knockdown shooter? Of course not. Because if he hits a handful more or less shots either way, it drastically changes his percentage.
Sam Vecenie at CBSSports.com reviewed all the mechanical flaws in Brown's jump shot: imbalance on the follow-through and releasing the ball too slow and too late. He's only 19, and while I'm a big believer that the past is prologue, you're not always doomed to repeat history. Since declaring for the draft, it seems like he's already addressing some of these issues.
Eversley is VP of Player Personnel, and he oversaw many of the draftees' workouts for the Sixers. Here's some video from his visit in Philly. You can see that Brown is already improving with his higher release point and arc on his shot:
Banging a couple of threes in a row in an empty gym isn't exactly the most ringing endorsement of Brown's improved shooting, but he did hit 76 out of 100 at one of his Waltham workouts (he came in for two like Marcus Smart). That's just three less than Jamal Murray and nine under Buddy Hield's ridiculous round of 85. You'd like to see him be more up and down with his jumper and not drift so much, but he's a work in progress putting in the work.
There's also the matter of his turnovers and low assist numbers. According to Basketball Reference, Brown had the highest usage rate (31.4%) of any of the key rotation players for Cal. By comparison, as LSU's point forward and primary ball handler, Ben Simmons averaged a USG% of 26.4. When Brandon Ingram was at Duke, he used 25.6% of the plays with Grayson Allen and Derryck Thornton at the helm.
At California, head coach Cuonzo Martin utilized him as a distributor at times (due in part to injuries) surrounded by non-shooting wings and two bigs. That's just not his game. In Martin's interview with Amanda Pflugrad at Celtics.com, he described Brown as an north-and-south player that attacks the rim who is "very quick, very explosive, very strong." He's not a probing playmaker, at least not yet.
Stevens breaks down his players into four categories: ball handlers, wings, swings, and bigs. Right now, Brown probably slots in as a swing man like Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko. Most of the ball handling and playmaking duties will be shouldered by point guards Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier, with Brown acting as a finisher. Think of Crowder catching the ball on the swing and attacking the rim with the defense already compromised. And as Vecenie points out, Brown generated the fourth-most free throws (9.2) per 40 minutes.
And for what it's worth, the defensive pairing of Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko on the floor as versatile forwards that can switch on D produced one of the lowest defensive ratings (99.0) for a Celtic duo last season. That combination turned the tide in the first-round series against the Hawks, and it's not unthinkable that Crowder starts at power forward and Brown slides into his small forward spot by the time training camp ends in late October.
At the introductory press conference, Stevens said:
Obviously, in this league right now, one of the deciding factors in being able to compete at a high level is to be able to do multiple things with one person. Very few guys can move like Jaylen can move at his size and at his length. The defensive versatility is a big piece of that, and that should be transferable right away. The other thing you see as you learn more about Jaylen, as you watch him more, is obviously the explosion, the work ethic.
We'd all love for Brown to be a Day One star, but Ainge has preached patience with the rookie, and Stevens would later commend Brown on his drive to improve. As the son of educators, he's always looking to better himself, and according to CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely, he's looking to continue his college education by taking classes at Harvard. But to Celtics fans, all that won't really matter unless he reaches his potential on the parquet. He's drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook and modeled his game after childhood hero Tracy McGrady, but its his idolization of Kobe Bryant's work ethic that will ultimately help him reach his goals.
Check out this clip from NBATV where Isiah Thomas caught up with Brown at Berkeley. Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but Jaylen seems almost put off by Thomas' cheerleading and advice about basketball as entertainment. The kid just wants to put in his work and get up his shots. I see a little bit of Rajon Rondo in Brown: the unique physical gifts, the cerebral approach to life, and the standoffishness with sports celebrity. That may scare some fans because at times, Rondo was equal parts genius and frustration, but it could also mean that the enigma that is Jaylen Brown right now is something special, something that should be developed and nurtured. I love that, and my guess is after summer league, training camp, and the first couple of weeks into the 2016-2017 season, these boos we heard in June will turn into a Garden roar.