We talk a lot about the improvements that Jaylen Brown has made and what remarkable year he’s having. But sometimes I wonder if we somehow aren’t giving him ENOUGH credit (an amazing thing to say on a site dedicated to the team).
This is beginning to feel a bit like the Isaiah Thomas progression in Boston. Most assumed at first that he was a good 6th man. Then he became a starter and led them to the playoffs. Then he became an All-Star. Then he became an MVP candidate. Each step seemed like a maximization of his talents so each additional progression snuck up on most.
Jaylen wasn’t the last pick in the 2nd round. In fact, he was the 3rd overall pick. But in that draft there were supposed to be only two players standing out above the rest with a large group of players in play for the 3rd pick. [An aside: Yes, Celtics fans booed the pick, but that was largely due to the fact that they were expecting a trade for Jimmy Butler.]
Brown progressed from athletic role player to solid starter (with a cameo of fill-in playoff star in between). Then he became a solid starter and eventually a 2nd star next to Jayson Tatum. Now he’s playing the best he ever has and there’s no limit to how far he’ll go.
He’s become an outstanding shooter - both from 3 point land and the mid-range. He’s improved his ball handling and passing. He’s developed his finishing and an ability to draw fouls. He’s developed his defense (known more as an on-ball defender but improving off the ball as well). The whole game has slowed down for him and he’s become a dictator of the action instead of a reactor. Oh yeah, and he’s still really athletic.
You want production? Here are his early season stats through Sunday (16-game sample size).
- 6th in the league in scoring (27.3)
- 9th in the league in PER (25.98)
- Shooting 52.8% overall
- Shooting 43.8% from 3
- Grabbing 5.8 boards a game
- With career highs in assists (3.4) and steals (1.5)
He’s also making a lot of hay in the mid-range. In fact, he’s shooting 57.6% in the mid-range (league average is 41.9%) while taking a large amount of shots there (he ranks in the top-15 in the league in shots per game from midrange at 4.4 per game). That’s downright absurd.
Through games on Jan. 24, here's how all members of the Boston Celtics have fared in TPA during the 2020-21 #NBA season. pic.twitter.com/cYuBFAJvOM— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 25, 2021
Those aren’t just All Star numbers, they are All-NBA numbers with a chance of getting into the MVP discussion.
But is that sustainable? Well, his midrange shooting is probably set for a correction at some point. And it is worth noting that his usage is up in large part due to the team being without Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum for big stretches of the season. When our team is at “full strength” again (knocking on wooden objects), the ball will need to be more evenly distributed and Jaylen’s counting stats will likely normalize more over time (while likely still being above his career averages)
If you drop against Jaylen Brown in the midrange right now, you're basically giving him the equivalent of a layup. pic.twitter.com/ROAeMNpmBo— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 26, 2021
With all that said, Brown’s value to this team isn’t always measured in the counting stats. Even if he drops back a few points per game, he’s still a threat from all levels, a fearless attacker, and very flexible in how he’s used. Or said another way: even if you take away some of his shots and some of his percentages drop down a bit, he’s still going to find ways to contribute to winning.
And the luxury of having Brown, Tatum, and in theory a fully healthy Kemba Walker on this team is that you can ride the hot hand and stagger them throughout the game. Brown has shown, just like the other two, that he can lead a 2nd unit as the primary scorer.
If you put Jaylen Brown on a lottery team and he’d undoubtedly put up absurd stats. But he has also benefitted from developing around high level players in deep playoff runs through the majority of this early career. I would tend to believe that he would have grown and thrived in most environments, but the Celtics culture has given him much needed experiences and coaching to put him in position to succeed. And succeed he has.
(Side note: I purposely didn’t focus on his contributions to society off the court in this piece because what he does on the court is well worth the praise in itself. But yeah, it is awesome what he does beyond the game as well.)
It is time to stop being surprised by Jaylen Brown’s rise to greatness. If the NBA decides to have an All Star game in Atlanta (as they are considering) then Brown will most certainly be playing in his home town for the game. And that’s just the start for this remarkable young man.