Jaylen Brown is coming off an impressive season in which he compiled career-highs in points (20.3), rebounds (6.4), assists (2.1), and true-shooting percentage (58.3).
It was exactly the type of season the Celtics hoped for under the circumstances, where a nine-figure extension coupled with a step up in Boston’s hierarchy pressured Brown to live up to a raised bar. He did, and the Celtics exceeded expectations by finishing third in the Eastern Conference because of it.
Despite an increase in quantitative production on a contending team, Brown was not selected to the 2020 All-Star Game. Others around the conference had gaudier numbers and Boston was already sending Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker to Chicago. Earning a third requires unparalleled team success, the type the Celtics, as good as they were, didn’t have.
But another year brings another chance for Brown. Even if there won’t be an actual game to participate in, getting the first-time nod is an applaudable stepping stone in his continuous ascension among the league’s top young talent.
Assuming he takes another leap in line with the one he’s coming off of — a benefit of the doubt he’s earned after not only compiling more statistics in a new environment but upping his all-around efficiency — it’s worth examining whether his efforts in 2020-21 will put him over the top.
Every All-Star appearance is born from the opportunity for a player to showcase their individual excellence and with Gordon Hayward now a Hornet, that chance only gets bigger.
Brown was a valuable part of Boston’s top-five offense from a season ago as one of three Celtics to average more than 20 points a night, but he couldn’t go about trying to emulate Russell Westbrook’s MVP season because he had to be cognizant of those around him.
Tatum and Walker were Boston’s two leading scorers. Hayward was one of the best fourth-options in the league. Brown was 30th in minutes per game but wound up 36th in field goal attempts and outside the top-40 in usage rate.
The Celtics were the only team with three 20-point scorers and one of two with four who crossed the 17-point threshold. However, the C’s of last year are not the ones set to enter the new season. Hayward bolted to Charlotte and Boston has no direct replacement, which means the 13.5 shots and 17.5 points per game he averaged last season will have to be redistributed across the rotation, with Brown a likely beneficiary.
All indications point to a reduced role for Kemba after his productivity in the playoffs took a hit because of knee troubles. He’ll turn 31 in May and a shortened 72-game season is forcing league-wide consideration of load management in some way. Along with Hayward’s departure, it’s the perfect set of circumstances for Brown to increase his stats in ways Boston’s stacked starting unit didn’t allow for last season.
An alternative lies in all three of Brown, Kemba, and Tatum getting selected, but any thoughts of three Celtic All-Stars can only be justified with the best record in the East, if not the league, and even that guarantees nothing. The Bucks and Lakers represented the top of their respective conferences in 2020 yet didn’t receive any consideration for a third All-Star. Then again, neither had a third wheel top even 15 points per game.
Of course, reaching that mountaintop would require leapfrogging the only two teams ahead of Boston in the conference, and they aren’t likely to cede much ground. Even after losing out on Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Bucks are a better team with Jrue Holiday in place of Eric Bledsoe. Despite subtractions in its frontcourt, Toronto remains locked into competing at the highest level, too.
Focusing on those two teams also assumes that the Celtics can fend off the rise of Miami glowing in the wake of an unexpected Finals run or a Nets squad looking to break into the upper-half of the conference on the shoulders of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Even with all that might work in his favor, there’s the unfortunate reality of the challenge that lies in Brown’s pursuit of his first All-Star birth that he has no control over. He can post new career-highs which can help Boston earn the #1 seed. It doesn’t remove the fact that none of the East’s 15 All-Star selections from a season ago have left the conference and the pool of legitimate candidates has only grown larger.
KD and Kyrie will factor into the selections. Milwaukee is expected to pace the league in wins for the third year in a row, which will open the door for Holiday to join his new All-Star teammates. The presence of the newly-acquired Russell Westbrook should better position Bradley Beal to earn the necessary team success that broke his case last year, while the former MVP should contend for a spot himself.
That’s a lot of worthy names for Brown to battle independent of the resume he compiles when the time comes for the coach’s vote, which makes Walker’s potential role in his chances all the more interesting.
Each of the teams with the five-best records in the NBA last season all boasted two All-Stars. Boston was fifth among them and once again expects to sit near the top of the East and be rewarded with two All-Star spots for doing so.
While Tatum is the obvious lock to represent Boston, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Walker take a backseat to the 24-year-old Brown. Considering the difficulties in the other avenues it would take for him to join Tatum, Brown’s best bet will almost assuredly lie in Kemba’s desire to let him try.