The numbers are eye-popping. The impact on winning profound. In his fifth NBA season, Jaylen Brown has taken a massive step, vaulting from borderline All-Star to best scorer on an elite team. The ascent may be a surprise to some, but it is the result of continuous, steady gains to his shot-making arsenal. Now, Brown reaps the rewards of such incremental improvement.
Let’s rewind the clock ten years. To be seen as a great wing scorer, guys would have to conquer the mid-post isolation. Back-to-basket post-ups, slow methodical possessions. It’s the Michael Jordan effect, and it shaped scoring arsenals of the game’s best like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. All the best wings would demand the ball, play based off feel and attempt some fadeaway jumper or counter to it.
Fast forward to today and the game has changed, more reliant on 3-pointers and drifting away from the blocks. Those wings aren’t standing twelve feet from the hoop, wrestling their man and asking for the rock. Instead, they’re coming off the pick-and-roll, catching the ball at 25 feet and breaking down their man in space.
From a skill development standpoint, that brings simplicity to the elite of the elite. To master the mid-post arsenal meant to have a deep bag: turnarounds over either shoulder, step-backs and side-step jumpers, step-throughs and up-and-unders on either side of the floor.
Now, when wing scorers get to face up and drive from outside the 3-point line, the necessary skill levels are much more simplistic: be proficient from deep to force defenders to guard you, master dribble moves to get past tight defenders, and have consistency on your pull-up jumper from a variety of takeoff points.
The crux of Jaylen’s development has been a steady climb from adequacy to proficiency, and proficiency to mastery in these areas. He’s one of the more creative and consistent ball handlers. His 3-point range has become a focal point of his game. This year, the threats of both have led to a higher rate of mid-range jumpers, and he’s thriving.
Everything starts with the trey, where Jaylen is shooting 43.8% on the season. He’s seen gradual increases in both volume and efficiency the last three years, though this is the first leap he’s made north of 40%. Per Synergy, he’s 17-for-28 (60.7%) on unguarded catch-and-shoots, meaning a defender is farther than six feet away on his attempt. Knocking down open looks with that level of consistency floods defenders towards him, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Even late-arriving defenders don’t contest or interrupt his rhythm. His eyes are laser-focused on the rim, and the level of zen he’s achieved keeps his focus despite solid contests:
He’s at the point now where teams cannot go under screens or handoffs designed for him. His form is consistent, starting with his base and going all the way up to his release. He reads his defender going under and pops back well, and scores moving in either direction. He’s gotten to the point where he brings his momentum to a stop without interrupting his rhythm--looks incredibly in control--then gracefully rises to his launch:
The consistency of those shots means that defenses, by design, no longer want to go under. They jam him on the perimeter, instead opting to influence a JB drive. What we see, instead, are possessions like this:
Perhaps that’s why Jalyen is taking 29.1% of his field goal attempts from 10 feet to the 3-point line, by far the highest rate of his career. Perhaps it’s his improved comfort level that has brought him to the mid-range. Either way, he’s excelling in an area that’s been taboo in the modern NBA.
As an oversimplification of analytics, today we think of treys and layups as good, and mid-range pull-ups as bad. The math behind expected points from each location does create a priority list for where a team’s attempts as a whole should be coming from. But NBA defenses are sophisticated enough to flip the math on its head, and force more mid-ranges by guarding the charge circle and 3-point arc.
To be a great player who scores one-on-one late in the shot clock, a guy like Brown has to be able to comfortably make the shots that he’s forced to take. Where Jaylen has progressed to, these aren’t just late-clock prayers, they’re in-rhythm attempts he is seeking out:
Through fifteen games, Jaylen is shooting 47.6% on jumpers from 10 to 16 feet, and 58% from 16 feet to the 3-point line. For reference, only Bradley Beal has as many attempts and a higher percentage on long mid-ranges, and two players are more efficient between 10 and 16 feet (Kevin Durant and Chris Paul).
The elite company he’s with should show just how fantastic Jaylen’s scoring arsenal has become.
What I’ve noticed that’s unique with Jaylen is that his footwork is so incredibly different on his pull-up jumpers. Sometimes he’ll spring high, looking fluid and conjoined throughout. Others he’ll have an awkward lean into his shot, not jumping as high and keeping his knees bent on his jumper:
What it signals to me is work done to perfect the follow-through, and a great mastery of consistency on the release of his shot. His focus isn’t on replicating a full-body form whenever he pulls up, but in getting airborne and replicating the same follow-through motion each time.
That opens the door for Brown to utilize a bevy of dribble moves and different footwork to get himself space for a jumper.
Most prevalent has been a simple step back move, which is anything but mundane. The velocity of Brown’s basket attack gets a defender back peddling. He uses his off-arm really well to create separation, then finishes the deal with a long stride step back. He’s balanced on his rise, shoulders square to the rim and is subtle enough with his borderline-illegal push-off that it doesn’t get called:
Back in April, Brown was asked about what film he watched outside of himself, he mentioned guys like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Tracy McGrady. All three were masters of footwork in the mid-range, making tough shots and having counters as face-up drivers.
That’s likely where the inspiration for Brown’s turnaround jumper comes from. He’s great at, especially when driving to his left, coming to a staggered stop, leaning in with his shoulder to create space and spinning around to a one-footed fadeaway.
It might be the prettiest shot in his arsenal:
Brown’s greatness isn’t in the many entries into his “polished moves” journal, but in his ability to improvise off the bounce. He is making really, really difficult shots look easy and transitioning from a series of disarming dribble moves to pull-ups.
The skill level required here is two-fold. First, tight ball handling and an ability to be taken as a credible threat to drive while executing dribble moves. Second, the consistency to transfer the ball from below his hip into the shot pocket quickly and in a way that allows him to generate a routine release. That’s where the work on consistent wrist stroke has paid off for Jaylen.
It results in crazy difficult shots like these:
Through his first four seasons, Brown has an assist rate of 8.4, meaning he only assisted on 8.4% of his teammate’s baskets when he was on the floor. This year that number is up to 18.9%, an astronomical leap. He has a higher usage rate than Joel Embiid or Damian Lillard, a higher scoring average than the reigning MVP and is second in the entire league in field goal makes.
The game is slower for Jaylen, and he’s taken the biggest single season leap in his career thus far. His steady improvement has lead him to undoubted All-Star level and one of the hottest starts we’ve ever seen from a Boston Celtic.