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Jaylen Brown’s mid-range game has opened up his scoring

Jaylen Brown’s mid-range game has flourished this season, and as a result, so has the rest of his offense.

Los Angeles Clippers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

Jaylen Brown is playing the best basketball of his career on both sides of the ball. The work he’s doing on the offensive end is what’s earning him a significant amount of credit. This season, Brown is operating as a featured scorer. He’s attacking the rim, making smart reads, and hitting his open jump shots.

Everything he’s doing makes sense. He’s playing to his strengths and he’s leaning into an ever-expanding skillset. Yet, I keep coming back to how Brown’s mid-range game has allowed him to open up his scoring ability elsewhere on the floor.

If you read the “10 takeaways” the morning after games, you will be familiar with me pointing out how his mid-range game has become a great counter to what the defense is doing.

Looking to run Brown off the three-point line? He can take a couple of dribbles and pull up for a reliable mid-range jumper. Sliding over to defend a drive? He can stop and pop from his spots in the middle of the floor. Defending him in the post? That fadeaway shot is a thing of beauty.

Suddenly, Brown is a pick-you-poison matchup. Each team will have to pick the shots they’re willing to live with based on the defensive personnel at their disposal. It’s worth noting that Brown isn’t taking more mid-range jumpers than before. This season, 36% of his shots are coming from that area of the floor, the same amount as in 2020-21 and 2021-22. The difference is in his accuracy.

Brown is converting 48% of his middies this season, a career-high. That means almost one out of every two mid-range jumpers he takes are going in. It’s here where the chess battle is being won, and is allowing everything to open up around him on the court.

In the above clip, Brown has the ball in transition. Rather than sprinting to attack the rim, he surveys the floor to see how the defense is looking to play him. The Indiana Pacers look to deny his drive to the rim. TJ McConnell picks Brown up around the nail. Myles Turner is digging to take away the weak side elbow. Another defender is pinching in on the strong side.

In years gone by, Brown may have looked to bully his way to the rim or the defense would have won, and he would have passed the ball. This year is different, though. Brown has confidence in his jumper. He takes a couple of dribbles, squares his hips, and hits an easy mid-range jumper. That’s a counter. If the defense had picked him up higher on the floor, he may have utilized a screen and looked to create out of the pick-and-roll. If they had closed out hard, he would have driven the lane.

Instead, Brown simply walked to his spot in the mid-range and nailed the jumper.

Here’s another example. Brown drives from the wing, gets a dig from the strong side helper and engages the low man. Here is where Brown may have deferred in previous years, or perhaps he may have attempted a floater. Instead, he stops on a dime and pops for an easy mid-range jumper.

Again, it’s a counter to how the defense is covering him. That counter has made him a fearsome three-level threat. When you can’t leave the mid-range open, it creates a problem for the defense, especially when the rest of Boston’s roster is capable of cooking off the catch.

We’re also seeing Brown be more decisive and aggressive out of the post. He’s willing to attack the contact by spinning off, facing up, or turning into the defender before getting his shot off.

With so many mid-range weapons, defenses have tough decisions every time Brown gets the ball. You don’t want to push up too high when he’s on the perimeter because then he can muscle his way past you and explode to the rim. If you sag too far off, he can shoot the three (where he’s averaging 36% this season).

The below shot chart shows Brown’s favorite shooting spots on the court. The brighter the spot, the more frequently he’s looking to get his shots off in that area. As you can see, the left elbow, right at the nail, and the right and left tips interiors of the paint are all his favorite mid-range shots.

He is also shooting from both wings and crushing things around the paint.

Jaylen Brown preferred shooting spots
Jaylen Brown preferred shooting spots

Now, let’s go back a few years to the 2018-19 season.

Jaylen Brown preferred shooting spots 2018-19
Jaylen Brown preferred shooting spots 2018-19

There are far fewer mid-range opportunities for Brown in the second chart. Of course, some is coaching, and some is the role he’s being asked to play. But for me, it’s no coincidence that Brown’s entire offense has been unlocked since he got given the green light to attack from wherever he feels comfortable on the floor.

That same green light has seen a dramatic rise in Brown’s overall playmaking ability, too. Rather than force-feeding him pick-and-roll reps in areas where he doesn’t usually occupy, he’s being entrusted to call his own screens. By having the additional freedom, Brown is using his gravity and explosiveness to pressure defenses, leading to an increased assist ratio out of the pick-and-roll.

Talking of assists, take a look at the above clip. Notice how Brown drives the lane, draws defensive attention from the help, who digs at the dribble, and counters by dragging the ball back and threatening a mid-range jumper. Karl-Anthony Towns quickly recovers, providing enough size and length to deter the shot.

However, Towns is now higher up the floor than the Minnesota Timberwolves would like, allowing Jrue Holiday to cut the baseline. Brown sees Holiday’s cut, takes an extra dribble toward the nail — where he’s a genuine threat — and hits the veteran guard with a nice pass for an easy bucket.

Assists can be tricky to quantify. I try to look at them in three brackets.

  • The first bracket is you passed the ball to somebody who then created for themselves, earning you an assist when, in reality, you had little effect.
  • The second is you made a good read and put somebody in a favorable spot.
  • The third is when a player has used their own gravity to manipulate the defense. They have seen the read, and they’ve understood where the ball needs to go, but they take that extra beat to elevate the potential shot attempt from a good look to a great one.

The play above falls in that third bracket. Brown showed great self-awareness to understand defenses will panic when he’s in the mid-range. He then navigated to one of his most consistent spots on the court, which created a better passing angle and allowed Holiday to complete his cut. Then, he made the pass. That’s high-level manipulation, which leads to high-level shot attempts.

Let’s take a look at another.

Now, at first glance, you could put this assist in the second bracket, and there would be little argument from me or anybody else if you chose to do that yet. However, couldn’t Brown have simply stopped at the nail and taken a shot, knowing that he’s got his man locked on his hip and no one in front of him to contest a shot he hits at a 50% clip? Especially when he knows the defense is going to collapse at the rim.

That’s where the manipulation comes in. You can spot the moment Brown sees Porzingis in the corner. I’d hedge a bet that there was some traffic directing going on via eye movement here. Brown opts against hitting the mid-range pull-up and chooses to drive at the defense.

As expected, three defenders collapse as they look to take away Brown’s ability to dunk or get an easy finish. Porzingis has rotated over from the corner, and boom, an easy wrap-around pass leads to a bucket. To me, that’s manipulation. It’s also the product of Brown being such a clear scoring weapon at multiple spots from the floor.

Brown is flourishing in his modified role. He’s excelling with the additional freedom being afforded to him by the coaching staff. And he’s thriving in the additional spacing of Boston’s five-out offense due to everybody being a respected perimeter shooter and catch-and-drive threat.

As we progress through the second half of the season, teams will undoubtedly experiment with new ways to limit Brown’s scoring. It will be interesting to see how Brown and the coaching staff look to evolve his scoring profile and continue reaping the benefits of his explosive athleticism and ever-growing confidence.

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