In all the coach speak, player speak, and GM speak of Media Day, there are little nuggets of information that stick out and reveal something that maybe wasn’t known before. There are things that are obvious. Marcus Smart’s weight loss is going to make him quicker and more athletic. Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum’s scoring ability will help on the offensive end. The versatility from 1 through 14 is going to make a difference on both sides of the ball.
But then there are those throw away quotes that you don’t think anything of at first, but if you pick up enough bread crumbs, you might be able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture. One of the big questions heading into training camp is who will start in the back court with Kyrie Irving. One option is the slimmed down Marcus Smart who was Brad Stevens’ “sixth starter” last season and the most tenured Celtic on the roster. Al Horford called him the heart of the team yesterday and you’d think that the heart of the team would be in the starting five.
But then there’s Jaylen Brown, the second year #3 pick who is looking to build off his strong finish from last season. When asked about what Stevens’ expected from Brown going into 2017-2018, he said:
Brown had flashes of offensive brilliance in summer league and flew out of the gym in the NBA Africa Game. His game showed improvement in his jumper and with his handle, but Stevens practically discounts Brown’s development on offense if he doesn’t fulfill that Avery Bradley role of “lock down defender.”
Stevens: “We need Jaylen to be a lock down defender. If we’re going to be the best that we’re going to be, that’s going to be important.”— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) September 25, 2017
A month ago, Brad Stevens had similar thoughts on Chris Mannix’s podcast and said, “(Brown) works hard. He's going to continue to be good at that stuff. But especially with losing Avery, it's going to be really important that Jaylen takes the next step defensively." Brown echoed those sentiments during his media availability as well:
Jaylen Brown on his new defensive responsibilities: "My job each and every night is to slow the best player on the other team down."— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) September 25, 2017
You have to think that before yesterday, Stevens sat with Jaylen to discuss his role next season and made defense priority #1 during the off-season. Work on your shot, clean up your dribble, but when you come back in October, your role is going to be on defense, defense, defense.
Based on last year, there’s some strong evidence that Brown could slide in seamlessly into the starting lineup. Brown started 16 games when Bradley was on the shelf and in the 98 minutes he played with Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, and Amir Johnson, the team had a defensive rating of 90.6. By comparison, the regular starting lineup with AB was a 106.2 (in 433 minutes). Individually, Brown stacks up, too. In 56 possessions defending isolations, Bradley gave up 1.04 points per possession; the taller, bigger Brown was stingier at 0.87 ppp in 30 possessions. Here’s how they compare in NBAMath.com’s play type profiles:
You can see how Brown’s size advantage really gives him an edge in spot-ups, coming off screens, and in the post. In Greg Cassoli’s player preview for Jaylen, he illustrated how Brown is able to defend players as different as LeBron James and Steph Curry and wrote:
Brown isn’t consistent enough to handle either of those types of responsibilities full time, but the fact he has the tools to even consider covering players as different and talented as Curry and James is endlessly tantalizing. It’s a level of versatility that very few players possess.
Jaylen turns 21 at the start of the season. A lot of responsibility comes with that age, but if you’ve been tracking Brown since his arrival in Boston, you know that he can handle it. When asked about the recent developments with President Trump and politics intersecting with sports, he answered in a very measured and dignified way, calling for unity and an open discussion. The Cal kid may seem wise beyond his years, but his accelerated maturity will be tested this season. He’s called himself a student of life and on the basketball court, but every night, he’ll be tested by the league’s best.