When Kevin Durant departed Golden State for Brooklyn and Kawhi Leonard opted against pairing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the NBA entered into uncharted territory for the betterment of its competitive balance.
Big threes had become all the rage in the superteam era before dynamic duos usurped them as the must-have to compete for a championship.
LeBron and AD. Kawhi and Paul George. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
It’s no coincidence that each of their respective teams were among the prohibitive favorites heading into this season, boasting a level of top-tier talent that’s been a proven recipe for title contention.
And with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, the Boston Celtics weren’t lagging too far behind, but aren’t currently at the level of stardom of the NBA’s most elite.
Jaylen Brown might not top Boston’s two All-Stars and leading scorers in the offensive hierarchy, but his contributions could give the C’s a leg up on the postseason competition.
Consider the unofficial third options on every Eastern Conference contender likely to stand in the Celtics’ way of a potential Finals run.
Whether it’s Eric Bledsoe, Tobias Harris, Fred VanVleet or even Goran Dragic, how many can legitimately take control of the offense of a postseason game then go and shoot 47.4 percent from the corners as Brown has this season?
Few across the NBA landscape can rotate between an off-ball role and offensive focal point over the course of a season much less in the middle of a game, but Brown has done so without a hiccup.
Notice in the sequence below how Brown never leaves the right corner, allowing the gravity of a Walker/Theis two-man game to eventually free him for an open look beyond the arc.
It’s important for Brown to be a capable floor spacer alongside two players inside the top-20 in usage rate. Only the Houston Rockets, LA Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers can claim such a duo, and they assuredly surround them with plenty of perimeter shooting.
Brown is converting 38.1 percent of his 5.6 3-pointers a game, including a sparkling 41.9 percent mark on 3.9 nightly catch-and-shoot attempts.
When the playoffs arrive, however, defenses will do their best to trap both Walker and Tatum and force Boston’s non-All-Stars to beat them. Those are the moments for Brown to step a bit closer into the spotlight and impose his will in ways not many other third options can.
In this clip against the same Dallas team, the presence of both Maxi Kleber and Seth Curry forces Walker to give the ball up to Brown, who needs just two dribbles to get to the basket and finish over three Mavericks.
CelticsBlog’s very own Coach Spins broke down Brown’s effectiveness with this rip-through move here. Per Coach, “his ability to thrive in quickly-attacking closeouts is what allows him to get open and maximize his shooting and finishing ability at the rim.”
Nearly 30 percent of Brown’s field-goal attempts have come after 3-6 dribbles, second-most in his arsenal only to his spot-up looks. He’s shooting 49.3 percent on such attempts, where improved handles help him create something from nothing as seen here:
He is without a doubt a notch below Walker and Tatum at the offensive end, but the C’s are still the only team with three players averaging no fewer than 20.0 points a game. Brad Stevens can turn to either Tatum or Kemba but not fret when they’re forced to give it up.
Among players with a similar shot profile — north of 15 field goal, five 3-point, and four free-throw attempts per game — Brown has the eighth-best true shooting percentage, higher than both his All-Star teammates.
“Yes, Brown has been the beneficiary of the newfound attention that Tatum is drawing,” explained NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg. “But he’s had moments where he’s simply taken the baton, too.”
With Kemba sidelined in a late February game against the Utah Jazz, Brown showed off his chops as the focal point of the offense. Tatum exited the third quarter with just over five minutes remaining and the Celtics down one. Over the next 2:36, Brown assisted a Marcus Smart triple while scoring 10 of Boston’s next 12, putting them up six.
A dynamic duo can take a team quite far during a time in the NBA where Big Threes have, for the most part, come and gone. It’s why Boston is an intriguing bet to compete for the Eastern Conference crown. Brown rounding out an elite trio for the Celtics--more than any other conference foe--could make the possibility of that reality even more likely.