Jaylen Brown is often overlooked. As the third option in one of the most complete starting fives in the league, his contribution is frequently overshadowed by that of his two All Star teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Many thought he was drafted too high when the Celtics picked him third overall in 2016, and many thought he was overpaid when he signed a four year, $115 million extension this past offseason, but many would be wrong. His play in the bubble has been outstanding, and as Boston prepares for another playoff run, Brown will be essential in elevating the team to the level of genuine contenders.
Brown had a turbulent season last year to say the least. Following a surprisingly deep run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018, in which he started as a result of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward’s season ending injuries, Brown was relegated to a bench position. He averaged 13 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in 25.9 minutes per game, all of which fell short of what he produced the season prior. As he explains it, being downgraded after an outstanding season was difficult to cope with. The third-year player felt he deserved a starting spot with starter-level minutes, but as the C’s struggled with too many mouths to feed, he was lost in a deep bench that all thought the same of themselves. There was no consistency in playing time and no secure role as a player, and his stats reflected this.
But this season is different. With the departure of Kyrie and Al Horford, the Celtics’ starting roster freed up room for the blossoming star to secure consistent minutes and a cemented role. And as a result, he’s flourished.
Last season, he started 25 of the 74 games he played. This season, he started 57 of 57. With a consistent role and predictable playing time, his confidence has surged and his numbers with it. Through the regular season, Brown averaged 20.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game on 48.1% shooting from the field, career highs in every statistic. He’s always been a solid defender, which is essential in Boston’s defensive scheme that thrives on the ability to constantly switch, but he’s developing into a serious offensive weapon. He can shoot the three (38.2% on 5.9 attempts per game) and he makes smart passes, but he is most effective on the drive. He’s one of the deadliest players in the league on the fast break, and his ferocious finishes intimidate defenders everywhere.
JB TOMAHAWK. pic.twitter.com/pA7saZ7NPn
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 2, 2020
He knows exactly how to get behind the opponents after a missed shot, and his speed in combination with his natural athleticism makes him unstoppable once he catches the ball.
transition dunks >>> pic.twitter.com/rCPoP7iqPq
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 6, 2020
But while Brown’s vicious finishes at the rim compose the majority of his highlights, he’s been quietly refining other skills as well. He’s noticeably improved his ball-handling and playmaking abilities, and as you watch him, you can tell that the game has slowed down for him. He’s more conscious of his movements. He takes his time and analyzes the situation to make the best decision. Take this play in his most recent game against Memphis for example:
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 11, 2020
Brown wasn’t having a great game from the field, but he knows his presence with the ball will draw the attention of defenders, and he uses this to his advantage. He pulls big-man Jonas Valančiūnas out of the paint with the threat of his shot, and lulls the entirety of the defense to sleep with his dribble, then fires a bullet past everyone to find Robert Williams beneath the basket with an open look. He took his time, he analyzed the situation, and he made a strong decision that led to an easy bucket. It’s this kind of basketball intelligence that will make Brown great one day.
This is one of Brown’s best attributes, and it can easily go unnoticed if you’re not looking for it. He’s very mentally strong. Off the court, he’s one of the league’s best activists. He has been championing civil rights and education reform for years, leading marches and speaking at renowned universities around Boston. And you can see how this sharpness carries over on the court.
He’s only 23, so he’s bound to make mistakes as he develops, but what he has shown this season is extremely promising. Brown seems to approach every play with the same intensity, which is a rare quality in the modern game and an essential one on a Boston team that often defeats themselves. Watching the Celtics, it becomes evident when they lose steam. After a streak of bad plays, they start to play hero ball and take contested shots with plenty of time left on the clock. But Brown doesn’t let the momentum of a game get to his head. When the C’s start spiraling, it’s JB who puts a stop to it. He’ll come up with a big stop or he’ll slow the game down and allow their offense to work as it’s supposed to, and he’ll effectively turn the momentum back in their favor.
Brown is extremely level-headed. Yes, he’s very talented, and his scoring, passing, rebounding, and defense are all gradually improving as he grows as a player, but it’s his calm approach to the game, which has shined this season, that will take him to new heights. He doesn’t let anything rattle him, and as he grows, it’s this mindset that will let him flourish. His talent has helped him emerge as a star in the league, but he’ll grow to become a superstar because he’s got the mentality of one.
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves | Getty Images