There’s a lot of stats we can use to evaluate just how good someone is at what they do. For example, as an expert of advanced analytics, I can state with confidence that Jaylen Brown is worth about 300 Ted DiBiases. That stat certainly tells you something, but like anything, all stats aren’t particularly helpful in a vacuum. What we need is context, a better understanding of the facts. And like your sketchy Uncle Greg, the best way to provide a better understanding of the facts is to do it in front of a jury of your peers.
In that vein, the plan here is to evaluate Jaylen Brown up against some of his contemporaries — specifically, contemporaries that possess a similar playstyle to JB. We are looking for high usage wings that aren’t their team’s primary ballhandler. So that tosses out guys like Paul George and Brandon Ingram who do a lot of primary initiating as playmakers.
Jaylen is at his best when he’s play finishing, so I used two stats to track down similar players. First, we want someone with extremely high usage since Jaylen takes a lot of shots and has a lot of the ball, but still avoiding those with a large playmaking burden. Then, we can filter out playmakers with high assist percentages. If we a search of a usage rate at 27.5% or higher, but an assist percentage at 21% or lower, we get the following crop of players:
Doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare Jaylen to bigs since they just do fundamentally different things on both ends. That means Davis and Randle are kicked to the curb, which leaves us with three wings and whatever Donovan Mitchell is (shooting guard? scoring point guard? combo guard? small wing? guy who never misses against the Celtics?). I’m tossing out Tatum because they’re teammates and we already know where Jaylen Brown ranks in comparison to him.
Mitchell is a bit of a strange case beyond just the size difference. My preconception of his role is that he functions closer to a playmaker than a play finisher, but that’s not really true for his time in Cleveland. Garland handled much of the primary playmaking, which left Mitchell to do what he does best: score. Ultimately, I think he matches Jaylen’s role much better than someone like Brandon Ingram, who is asked to shoulder a larger creation burden.
So, with our crop of star wings (and Zach Lavine), let’s move into the method. This is going to be a statistical analysis of these four players in comparison to each other in three categories: offense, defense, and overall impact. At the end, I’ll draw a conclusion as to which of these guys are better than Jaylen, and which are not. Before we dive in, here are their normal counting stats in the points-rebounds-assists and FG%/3FG%/FT% splits.
Jaylen Brown: 26.6-6.9-3.5 49.1/33.5/76.5
Donovan Mitchell: 28.3-4.3-4.4 48.4/38.6/86.7
Zach Lavine: 24.8-4.5/4.2 48.5/37.5/84.8
Anthony Edwards: 24.6-5.8-4.4 45.9/36.9/75.6
Cool, those are somewhat important, but like Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea, we are jumping into the deep end (unconfirmed whether sharks are present).
It’s through 25+ years of watching and playing basketball (poorly) that I can say this definitively: scoring is important for guys that are asked to score. I might even be so bold as to say it’s important even if it’s not your primary role. With this profound maxim out of the way, let’s take a look at our first chart.
I think most of these stats are self-explanatory, but to the extent you don’t know what True Shooting is, it’s basically akin to field goal percentage but includes free throws and 3s in the calculation, sort of like slugging percentage in baseball. It’s an attempt to measure overall scoring efficiency, not just how many shots you make vs. how many you take like FG%.
First impressions are important, which is a lesson I learned the hard way after many failed dates in my 20s. Jaylen, on the other hand, is making a pretty good one. He’s first or second in every category but two: 3-point percentage and True Shooting. If anything, this chart highlights the importance of three-point shooting to overall efficiency. Jaylen’s only weakness is his outside shot, or at least it was a weakness last year. That alone is enough to drag his True Shooting down to 3rd.
On a more micro level, his numbers tell the tale of an elite 2-point scorer. None of the other three come anywhere close to his combination of rim volume and efficiency. Three-point shooting is most closely associated with spacing and healthy offense. The way it bends and stretches defenses is a valuable skill, but elite rim attacks do the same.
When Jaylen is on his way to the rim, help has to arrive, and it has to come from somewhere. Anytime you get the defense rotating, good things happen, and Jaylen does that consistently by attacking. Perhaps even more importantly, he’s the best of the group at attacking defenses that are already rotating, punishing them with an array of rim attacks and finishes.
Jaylen has made so many mini leaps, that his game is almost unrecognizable from his first 2 seasons. He's much more controlled going to the rim, and it led to being one of the most efficient high-volume finishers in the league. 7.1 FGA less than 5 feet and 68.6%. pic.twitter.com/dVF1fSIZrK— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 7, 2023
He’s also easily the best mid-range scorer of the group. Mitchell technically shot a higher percentage on mid-range shots, but that’s a bit of fool’s gold. He took less than one a game; it was, in essence, not part of his scoring repertoire. The mid-range game is where efficiency goes to die, but Jaylen has become so good at them that he’s wrung out a valuable weapon. He’s able to salvage dead possessions and bail out late clock situations, making it a worthwhile endeavor, especially in high leverage situations like the playoffs.
It is not the height of efficiency, but there's real value in a guy that can get a good shot out of stalled possessions, minimal or no action, or late against the clock. Jaylen's mid-range bails the Cs out often. pic.twitter.com/Rr8Ce8xQMJ— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 9, 2023
And given that basketball is not played in a vacuum or on a stat sheet (or I’d actually have been decent at it), the threat of the drive works beautifully together with his middy game.
The threat of Jaylen's burst is so drilled in defenders' minds that he basically just needs to hit them with a simple crossover to generate space for a pullup. pic.twitter.com/kpjL3D4oGu— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) January 2, 2023
Still, the plan is to do a holistic assessment of Jaylen’s offensive game in comparison to the others, and his overall efficiency hurts his case when evaluating three level scoring (which, if you recall from 3,000 words ago, is what we are doing in this section). If anything, putting Jaylen next to these three, and especially Mitchell, underscores the important of 3s and free throws.
But if I wanted to rank them in order of True Shooting, we could have just looked at that stat and saved everybody a whole lot of time. Scoring points on possession-by-possession basis has underlying positive effects beyond just adding points, and Jaylen’s shots go in the most often of this group. Making shots allows you to get your defense set, which minimizes highly efficient transition opportunities. A quick example, per Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics defensive rating drops from 111.5 overall to 97.4 in the halfcourt. That 111.5 number was 3rd in the league, while the Celtics only had the 11th best halfcourt defensive rating. Preventing transition opportunities matters.
Even still, I don’t think I can put Jaylen Brown first in three level scoring. Brown may be wildly efficient inside the arc, but until that three-ball regresses back to the mean, his overall efficiency leaves you wanting just a bit more (and for the love of the fanbase, Jaylen, please shoot over 80% on free throws). The efficiency gap between Brown and Mitchell is just too wide. Looking at Lavine and Brown, Lavine has the slight edge in overall efficiency, but is considerably below him in volume. Jaylen averages two more points per game, is much more efficient from mid-range and around the rim, and there’s less of a gap between their 3-point shooting. On balance, I lean Jaylen.
Which leaves us with the following rankings in overall scoring:
1st - Donovan Mitchell
2nd - Jaylen Brown
3rd - Zach Lavine
4th - Anthony Edwards
This will be a much shorter section. In the holistic evaluation of these four players, I’d probably rank playmaking as the least important category simply because the whole point is to isolate players that aren’t asked to operate as primary handlers. Nonetheless, it is still important for any player that touches the ball as often as this group. And since I lack creativity or any ability to use Adobe Illustrator, let us begin again with a Microsoft Word chart.
You’ll notice very quickly that Jaylen is last in every playmaking stat other than drives per game, which isn’t really all that playmaker-y. I’ve included it because an important part of playmaking is causing defensive rotations or drawing help, which opens up passing lanes. Attacking the rim is generally the best way to do both.
None of this should be much of a surprise. If there’s a singular hole in Jaylen’s game, it’s always been, and still is, making plays for other players. While he is the most efficient 1-on-1 scorer of this group, he also does the least to get his teammates involved. He passes the fewest number of times per touch, which isn’t necessarily a negative, but does highlight that even amongst score first wings, Jaylen is singularly focused on scoring. It’s a reality that’s one-part role and one-part skillset.
Even though the numbers look grimmer than even the chart design itself, he’s really not that far off from this group. If he averages just one additional assist every other game (without adding a turnover), he’d be just about in line with Zach Lavine (who is in a virtual tie with Edwards). It’s a very achievable bump, especially with the addition of Kristaps Porzingis who turns the pick-and-roll game to easy mode.
It’s pretty clear from the chart that Mitchell leads the playmaking category as well as overall scoring. He’s got the highest number of assists, highest assist percentage, the most potential assists, and most drives per game while having the second-best assist to turnover ratio.
Like I said above, you could almost flip a coin between Edwards and Lavine, but I’d probably lean Edwards. Higher assists, higher assist percentage, and he drives more often. Again, if you think Lavine clears him because of the assist-to-turnover ratio, I wouldn’t hold it against you.
So, taking all of this in consideration while heading into Part 2 - defense and impact, Mitchell has a pretty clear lead. Jaylen is a step ahead of Edwards and Lavine in the scoring department, while they both clear him in playmaking. I perceive the gap to be similarly wide in both instances, perhaps with Jaylen a slightly larger lead in scoring. Since I’m weighing scoring as more important than playmaking due to the particular role these guys play (and because I’m a biased Celtics fan), we are left with the following rankings so far:
Overall offense rankings
1st - Donovan Mitchell
2nd - Jaylen Brown
3rd - Zach Lavine
4th - Anthony Edwards