Through the early stages of the 2023-24 season, the Boston Celtics have looked like a well-oiled machine on offense. Jayson Tatum has led the way, but the level with which he’s affected the team is what stands out most.
With Tatum on the floor, the Celtics have a 24.6 net rating but a -16.1 net rating with him off. Unfortunately, Tatum’s individual dominance speaks volumes about the rest of the Celtics starting group and, in particular, his long-time co-star Jaylen Brown.
For the past few seasons, Brown has been one of the most criticized players on the Celtics. Despite his huge scoring numbers, All-Star nods, and All-NBA Second Team appearance last year, Brown’s playmaking and turnover struggles have dominated the conversation.
But with the new-look Celtics this season, Brown has found a way to maximize his skillset on the court while simultaneously making strides in his biggest areas of weakness with the help of Kristaps Porzingis.
The Brown-Porzingis two-man game is quickly becoming one of the most lethal weapons on the Celtics’ offensive arsenal. They’ve played the third-most minutes together of any two-man grouping on the Celtics, and the Brown-to-Porzingis assist combination ranks fourth (10).
“We work on it,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said of the Brown-Porzingis two-man game. “We have a few set plays where those two guys are involved, and those two guys do a good job of working their reads every single day.”
Their chemistry has been brewing off the court, too. At Celtics shootaround on Monday, Brown revealed that Porzingis lives in the same building as him. He said Porzingis is funnier than people know, and they’re developing a nice friendship, albeit with one interesting abnormality.
“Every time he sees you, he winks at you,” Brown said. “What’re you winking at me for, man?”
They showed off their togetherness on the court in Saturday night’s win over the Toronto Raptors. The Brown-Porzingis duo was out in full effect, and the opposition was absolutely dumbfounded.
The most effective way for Brown and Porzingis to flow offensively is through the pick-n-roll, bringing both players to the same side of the floor, as Mazzulla mentioned.
On this play, Porzingis’ presence alone behind the three-point arc is enough to draw Jakob Poeltl up, but as soon as he gets the ball, the Celtics big man immediately sprints over to Brown.
Porzingis gets him the ball but slips the screen and ducks to the basket. Poeltl attempts to cut off Brown’s drive, but Chris Boucher isn’t able to recover fast enough, and he finds Porzingis for an easy layup.
Porzingis’ ability to shoot and also act as a cutter gives Brown options he rarely had last year. Having a new dynamic weapon to run pick-n-roll with allows Brown to focus on making the right read without having to worry about making an other-worldly pass.
That said, Brown showed off some nice touch to get the ball past the 7-foot-3 wingspan of Boucher and into the hands of his 7-foot-3 Latvian teammate, who used great patience around the rim.
“I love playing with him,” Porzingis said of Brown. “He creates a lot of the situations. He draws a lot of attention, and it just opens things up for myself.”
The pair’s chemistry was further displayed in Boston’s win over the New York Knicks on Monday night. Julius Randle goes over the screen to account for Brown’s three-point shot, but once Brown gets downhill and Mitchell Robinson is forced to play up on him, it’s all over for the Knicks.
Having two talents like Brown and Porzingis on the court at the same time is bound to create quality offense, but the way they’ve been able to switch up the actions on a dime has been crucial.
Defenders typically go over the screen against Brown, as they respect his range. But on this play, Poetl stays attached to Porzingis because of his own scoring ability. And instead of handing the ball off, as Porzingis did earlier in the game, he keeps it.
This decision creates a wide open lane for Brown to leave OG Anunoby in the dust, and Porzingis finds him. (Yes, that’s All-NBA defender OG Anunoby getting his brain scrambled by the Brown-Porzingis two-man action.)
But as if one switch-up wasn’t enough, Brown and Porzingis went back to this look later in the game, and they changed it again.
This time, Scottie Barnes is ready for the play and ends up overplaying the handoff. Brown catches him sleeping and pivots to a backdoor cut. Porzingis finds him with a crisp bounce pass.
Brown’s ability to change pace in an instant gives Porzingis multiple options to play with and the Celtics’ offense plenty of looks to attack.
“He’s obviously very explosive,” said Porzingis. “Just his physicality. He can make so much happen on the court with how he is.”
Tatum won’t always be on the court, and Mazzulla can’t call every play when he’s not in the game. Actions like these could be the key to creating offense in Tatum’s absence.
Pairing Brown and Porzingis together more regularly could be the perfect Tatum-less solution to the consistent offense for the Celtics. They only have ten games under their belts, and they’re already working together in near-perfect harmony. Just imagine what it could look like by season’s end.
“We’re still in the beginning stages because I think our chemistry is just going to get so much better,” Porzingis said with a huge grin. “Like, I’m telling you, you’re just going to see. It’s going to get so much better.”