Last season, Jaylen Brown struggled with his weak left hand dribble and streaky shooting form. Fast forward a year and he is thriving, utilizing his improved handle to get to the rim with regularity while harnessing his athletic ability to transform his jump shot.
Primarily, Brown’s improvements revolve around him learning how to utilize that freakishly insane athleticism. His jump shot has become a reliable weapon following a slight mechanical change made with his release. Previously Brown would release the ball while still on his way up, making it easy for lengthy defenders to get a hand on the ball or in his line of sight.
This year, he is showing patience when shooting, reaching the apex of his jump before pulling the trigger. This allows him to get over most defenders length, providing a clear line of sight between himself and the basket. That slight change has seen his scoring efficiency take a leap, especially in spot-up shooting, where Brown is currently ranking among the top 20% of the league per Synergy.
Ball handling has also become a weapon for him. He is now able to control his dribble when driving at speed on either side of the floor. Handling the ball with either hand has opened up opportunities for him within the offense. He's no longer being forced weak side, attacking the basket with a regularity not seen from him before. Showing a plethora of dribble moves along with a great post game, defenses are left guessing as to how Brown will attack them on each possession. Those possessions have become more frequent, too. His development on ball has seen his usage rate climb to 23.3 percent this season. That rise places him in the 86th percentile league wide according to Cleaning The Glass.
Brown has become a force in the open court, punishing teams in transition with almost assassin-like precision while also displaying the ability to contort his body in order to draw shooting fouls. Heading into the All-Star break, Brown has led the transition for Boston 196 times. Throughout those possessions, he has shot 87-of-136 which is good for 64 percent from the field, drawing 33 fouls over that span.
Handling the ball at pace and being capable at changing speeds on a dime are two prerequisites for fearsome transition threats. Brown is capable of both at a high level. He is keeping his dribble lower to the ground and has the ability to turn the jets on and off again in a matter of seconds. This leaves defenders guessing constantly. If they show him the slightest glimpse of daylight, he will blow by them instantly. Sag off slightly and he will drain a jumper on them or show off a nice euro-step.
As a floor stretcher, we are also seeing an improvement, especially from the corners where he is shooting an insane 46 percent, per Cleaning the Glass. His overall three point percentage is up to 38.1 percent as opposed to his career percentage of 36.9 according to Basketball-Reference. If he gets ran off the line under close coverage then he can attack you from mid-range too, shooting at a 46 percent clip.
That ability to score on all three levels, while being one of the most athletically gifted players on the court at all times is what separates him from the pack. Offensively, he is showing admirable improvements year after year, but what does he provide on the other end of the floor?
Defensively, Brown is a completely different player than the one that entered the league four years ago. He has added muscle and shown a keen eye for the nuances of an NBA defense. His speed and agility coupled with his increasing strength allow him to guard positions 1-4 comfortably, switching between assignments at a moment's notice in order to apply ball pressure or cut-off driving lanes. Brown also provides multi-dimensional defensive abilities, which fits into the scheme Boston likes to play under Brad Stevens where each player can guard up or down depending on the situation in the moment.
Holding his man to 39.6 percent shooting when in man-to-man coverage, Brown is a shade above league average. However, he hardly gives up shooting fouls and does great work off ball. His ability to close out on shooters when the defense breaks down forces players to pass-up on what was a wide open shot only moments earlier, while his length discourages drives into the paint when he is in the vicinity.
He may not be an elite defender, but he possess elite physical tools which lend themselves as a deterrent rather than an anchor. Those physical tools have seen him take a big leap this season in his ability as a rebounder, pulling down 6.4 rebounds per game. That is precisely an extra two rebounds per game above his career average, a feat that has ranked him among the top 6 percent of qualifying player in the NBA.
As much of a leap as he has made, there are still improvements which can be made to solidify his game on both ends of the floor. Brown does not run the pick-and-roll well at all. Neither as a ball handler or roller, he is unable to penetrate when coming off the screen which allows defenses to force him into troublesome situations, leading to him giving up the rock. Being unable to make plays off the screen limits Steven’s options when staggering his four stars, as there needs to be a playmaker on each unit in order to keep the offense ticking.
Playmaking is more than just hitting a pass, or spotting a cutter. It’s also understanding when and where to move without the ball in your hands, causing reactions by imposing their will on the defense. For all of Jaylen’s improvements, his off and on ball play making are now a primary area of need during the summer.
Defensively, Jaylen still has room to improve, too. At the halfway point in the season, he is posting a defensive rating of 106.3 which ranks him 192nd in the league according to NBA Stats. Respectable as that may be, a player with his physical tools is capable of elevating their defensive skill set into the upper echelon of NBA defenders with some extra work. His length indicates potential to close the passing lanes or poke balls loose with regularity, while his mental dexterity will see him figuring out opposing defenses on a nightly basis sooner rather than later.
Speed-wise, Jaylen does a good job in keeping in front of his man when they drive, be it off screens, transition or isolation. Ranking around the league average mark when contesting his man in these play types, he is capable of being great though.
Overall, he is an amazing young player in the league who should be in contention for the Most Improved Player award come the end of the season. After just missing out on the All-Star game he should be hungry to get to work in the summer. If he can improve his playmaking on and off the ball along with tightening up a few loose ends on defense, Boston will have both of its Jays in the 2021 All-Star Game.