One of the most polarizing picks from Thursday’s NBA Draft came when the Boston Celtics selected Cal’s forward Jaylen Brown. Some worried about his analytics that projected him as a below average player, while scouts pointed to a mediocre system that didn’t mesh with his strengths. In order to get a more clearer picture of him, I went in and watched a few California games from start to finish. They were random, (I didn’t look for his best games), and I focused exclusively on Jaylen Brown. Here are some of the things that I noticed.
1. Jaylen Brown may be overrated defensively
Since the conclusion of the draft, Brown has been pegged as a person that can come in right away, and defend at a high-level. In some aspects that looked evident, showing good lateral quickness while defending on the ball, but that’s where it stops. Brown struggles defending off the ball, constantly ball-watching, not using his body to attack the boards consistently, and gives weak closeout efforts. My theory here is he overthinks a lot on the court, and it causes him to not commit to an action. This could be problematic in the NBA where the game is faster, and players need to make multiple quick decisions. When engaged, he has shown some promise as a guy that can either chase shooters around, or bang with small-ball 4’s in the paint, but smart veterans will have a field day making unexpected cuts against him.
Another thing I found interesting about his defense is that Brown rarely gambles for blocks or steals. On one end, it’s a good trait to have because it will probably allow him to stay on the floor longer at the next level. However, steals are usually an indication of defensive potential, and Brown only had 27 in 34 games (0.8spg). However, in Klay Thompson’s first season at Washington State he only averaged 0.9spg. He’s now one of the best wing defenders in the NBA.
2. Jaylen Brown is really, really, really good in transition
This can’t be stated enough, Brown’s ability in transition is most likely his best NBA skill. What makes him special beyond the ability to run the floor is his shiftiness, and speed with and without the ball.
His favorite move seems to be going behind the back, which could be dangerous against smaller guards in the league, but he’s good at using it at opportune times (as seen above). Brown actually surprised me with his awareness as a passer in transition, and is very good at “leading” his teammates to the ball. One of the biggest knocks against Brown has been his lack of “feel for the game”. I find that misguided, Brown can make sound decisions with the ball, but our next point will discuss why many didn’t realize it.
3. Do not underestimate the effect bad spacing had on Brown’s game
It was reallllly bad. Brown would constantly try to get to the hoop only to be met by multiple guys because his bigs were clogging the paint.
Now to be fair, Brown also had his fair share of struggles finishing at the rim too. Most of that was due to either trying to take off from too far, or trying to make something happen for his team by forcing it. Either way, the spacing really affected what Brown could do offensively. In an NBA setting, Brown is the perfect wing to run DHO’s (Dribble hand-offs) on a consistent basis. He’s quick enough with the ball to get in the paint, and with more shooters, he would be able to surprise people with his drive and kick ability. The good news for Brown is what he excels at is what most NBA teams want to do. An athletic wing who can attack the rim off the dribble, (eventually) be able to hit a spot-up three, and set teammates up will be a welcomed addition to a Celtics team that was heavily lacking in wing-depth and playmaking.
4. Add Jaylen Brown to the list of non-frontcourt Celtics that may have a post game.
It wasn’t done as frequently as I would have liked, (another downside of spacing), but Jaylen Brown showed a willingness and ability to post up smaller defenders whenever opposing teams switched. So far his go to move seems to be one or two hard dribbles followed by a quick spin before laying it in. The intriguing part about Brown’s ability to post is that he’s also good at adjusting in the air, and finishing with contact. There’s not many wings in the league that can do this, and it could be a useful tool if teams start to play smaller guys on him due to a rough shooting night.
5. Brown’s college 3pt% doesn’t tell the whole story of his shooting potential.
The biggest knock on Jaylen Brown has been his perceived inability to shoot. He does have an inconsistent jumpshot for sure, but to say he’s a complete non-shooter would be woefully misguided. If you combine Brown’s high school and college 3pt percentages together, you’d get an average of 35.1% which is around league average. Also, in 64.7% of Brown’s college games, he shot 33% or better from three. The problem was a few outlier games where he went 0 for 5, or 0 for 3. I say this not because I want to convince you that Brown is going to be a great shooter, but to drive home the point that consistency rather than ability is his real problem. Getting full-time professional training should fix that in time, and having NBA spacing will increase the quality of the looks he gets.
So what should you make of this kid?
That he’s really good. There’s a reason he was ranked right behind Ben Simmons coming out of high school. He’s the type of player that teams will be willing to give max money to. He’s not a finished product right now, and he will have some real struggles as he adjusts to the NBA game (as most rookies do). However, he’s lucky to fall in a situation like Boston, where there will be no pressure on him to suddenly blossom into a star. He’ll get to be brought along slowly while learning from a highly respected coaching staff, and a hungry roster that’s built an identity as a defensive juggernaut. Minutes will be available for him if he earns it, and a second unit with him and new teammate Marcus Smart could be an exciting look at the only two Celtics with superstar potential. For Boston, the pick has a very little chance of being a flop. You’ll either get a rotation defender who can occasionally hit a three, or a franchise player you can build around for decades. It’ll be interesting to watch his development, and how quickly he can grow, but when you have Jimmy Butler saying you remind him of a younger version of himself, I’d be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.