Jaylen Brown looks like an entirely different basketball player to start his fourth NBA season. From the hair to the improved handles, he’s almost unrecognizable from who he was last year, and he’s completely defied everything I thought I knew about player growth.
Typically, I’d expect a player like Jaylen to add one tool to their arsenal over the summer, maybe two. Generally, these are things that build on already existing skills, such as Marcus Smart improving his shot selection, or Jayson Tatum adding a step-back to his tool box. Not only did Jaylen add an entirely new skill, but essentially turned his greatest weakness into one of his best strengths.
Shot creation is the premium skill of the NBA. If you can create your own shots and knock them down consistently, you’re on another level. Not necessarily an All-Star level - although I do think he’s close - but it raises his floor from “decent role player who scores 20 sometimes” to “elite role player, possibly borderline All-Star who can take a game over.” Not to get too ahead of myself, but Jaylen’s efficient 19.9 points per game and solid defense could seriously garner some All-Star attention. To score as efficiently and plentifully as he does in his fourth season puts him in unique company, as seen here:
Historically, the league’s best scorers are far more explosive than Jaylen, and started getting buckets earlier in their career. The list of players to average 25 points or more in their early seasons is endless. But it’s fun to point out how Jaylen’s efficiency is tuned up to a level above almost all of them, even while being promoted a central role on an elite team.
As an aside, I truthfully don’t know what people mean when they say a player took “the leap” anymore. If Pascal Siakam made the leap, and Jaylen Brown also took a leap, then what is the leap exactly? It feels like one of those math problems where half the class gets 40 and the other gets 10,035.68. Are we all using the same formula?
Most important of all is the feeling that Jaylen’s ability finally matches his maturity.
Had he taken this lightly-contested shot - one that wouldn’t have impacted the end result of the game in any way - he would have a new regular season career high. But even in the most inconsequential circumstance, I can appreciate the discipline to pass up a good shot so his teammate can take a great shot. If the motto “play like you practice” holds true, then one should play garbage minutes the same way they would play a tight game. Jaylen has always been an elite, say-all-the-right-things guy, but pleasant post-game quotes about getting better can feel hollow after three years of the same bad habits.
Some would say that Jaylen is on a trajectory similar to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as a late-blooming two-way wing, which I won’t disagree with, but I’d like to make one other comparison:
Jaylen’s numbers line up remarkably well with Hayward’s fifth season (which wasn’t all that different than Hayward’s fourth and sixth seasons). The advanced metrics match up pretty well, too.
At his best, Hayward is pretty clearly a top 30 player in the league. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are both within - or close to - the top 10. It’s a small difference numerically, but monumentally different in terms of talent. Not to rule out Jaylen’s ceiling as a top 10 guy, but comparing him to Hayward-level players feels more reasonable to me.
Twenty point scorers who can create shots and play defense are rare enough that Jaylen would belong in the top-30 discussion if he can sustain his current level of production for an entire season. It feels preemptive to say this now, but we’re a quarter of the way through the season with more Hayward-less home games coming up.
So, we might as well start asking the big question now: is Jaylen Brown an All-Star? How many players in the East are currently playing better basketball than him? Jaylen is 11th in the east in scoring and, as we saw, has been notably efficient this year. And while the NBA feels more balanced this season, the East is terribly thin on All-Star power compared to the West, which means some borderline players will inevitably get in. If you’re a Celtics fan, you likely view Jaylen as better than borderline, so I’d wager that we all agree on this. Jaylen Brown, if he holds up, will make the All-Star team this season.