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Analyzing Jaylen Brown’s recent struggles

Jaylen Brown has struggled since returning from injury, but the cause of his struggles goes deeper than just the strained hamstring itself

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

A lack of offensive consistency has been one of the biggest issues for the Boston Celtics this season. They have been steadily improving in that regard, but when things looked rough at the start of the season, there was one player who helped them power through: Jaylen Brown. His efficient shooting was carrying their offense.

Lately, not so much.

Brown went down with a hamstring injury at the beginning of November. He’s since returned, but he doesn’t look like himself. Here are his numbers from before and after returning to the court:

  • Before: 25.6 points, 49.3% FG, 39.7% 3PT
  • After: 14.6 points, 39.4% FG, 21.1% 3PT

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the injury is hampering Brown. Other players who have gone down with the exact same injury usually come back unfazed. Two great examples of this are Tony Parker in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, who missed zero games, and James Harden in the 2018 season, who missed seven games and proceeded to drop 60 less than two weeks after returning.

In fact, when asked about the nagging hamstring, head coach Ime Udoka said that Brown “didn’t say anything” after Wednesday’s win over the 76ers in regard to it bothering him. However, something is clearly wrong with the way Brown has been playing.

Every player goes through rough patches, so Brown’s slump could be as simple as that. With that being said, there are some glaring differences in the way he’s playing now versus the way he was playing earlier this season.

Outside of the clear drop-off in his shooting splits, the biggest difference in Brown’s game is the lack of aggression in the paint. Before his injury, Brown was attempting 5.8 shots per game within five feet of the basket. Since making his return, that number is down to only 3.6. Considering he shoots 73.4 percent from close range on the season, the C’s should be encouraging him to get those numbers back up.

Take look at these two plays. This first one was from the last game before Brown missed time. He sees an opening in the Miami Heat defense, attacks it, and finishes through three great defenders.

Now that was certainly a crazy shot, but the point is not whether or not he converted. Look at how aggressive he is when attacking the basket. Brown has shown glimpses of that in these past few games, but it’s nothing like this. Here’s an example from Boston’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Brown has a chance to attack the paint but instead chooses to pull up from the edge of the paint.

These two plays are obviously not the exact same situation. Nonetheless, Brown clearly had a gap to shoot. Dejounte Murray provides a tad bit of help, but with the speed Brown was working at, he could have easily gotten to the rim and finished through contact. Yet, he chose to take a contested jump shot instead.

Sure, Brown has always loved these pull-up jumpers. His percentages from the mid-range have never been great, but his efficiency in the paint (non-RA) has taken a huge hit since coming back (46.4 percent before, 23.1 percent after).

Another problem Brown has been having lately isn’t one most would expect. When he was out, the Celtics’ offense transformed a bit, and the passing has looked much better. Brown has yet to adapt to that concept.

At the start of the season, the offense was mainly just “give the ball to Jayson Tatum and Brown.” Since then, the team has switched focus. As much as Tatum has struggled shooting the ball, he has adapted beautifully to the Celtics’ drive-and-kick offense. This was put on full display with his impressive 10-assist game against the Toronto Raptors. Brown, however, has not shown similar progress just yet.

These two plays show Brown and Tatum presented with a similar opportunity to make a pass. While Tatum chooses to hit the open man, Brown decides to go up for a contested shot at the rim.

These aren’t the exact same scenarios. However, with the defense closing in on each of them, one was able to find the open man and the other wasn’t. This isn’t a bad thing; it just shows that Brown has some more progress to make a passer.

On top of that, Tatum has had more time to adjust to Boston’s aforementioned newer style of offense. Brown has only been back for a few games and is trying too hard to “find his rhythm,” something Udoka has encouraged his players not to do in the past. At the very least, the 25-year-old certainly has the support of his teammates. This is what Tatum had to say after the Celtics’ recent win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I’m gonna be there for him like he’s been there for me. When we get down sometimes, we’re just there for each other. I tell him he’s gonna be the best version of Jaylen Brown. And he’s gonna be.”

Boston’s schedule in December is set to be a tall task. They’re currently on a treacherous west coast road trip, as well as games against some of the top teams in the East when they return. Brown needs time to get out of his funk, but the sooner he can, the better.