Exploring Jaylen Brown as a ball-handler

Boston’s lottery pick is a bottomless bag of potential. Could ball-handling be the secret to his unlocking his full potential? 

There’s been a lot of speculation of the type of role that Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown could play for the Celtics. The consensus seems to be the role as a small-ball four. In the new NBA, wings who can slide down have become a value like no other. If they can hold their own against bigger defenders, they can reap the benefits of the offensive mismatch. Interestingly, one role that hasn’t been much discussed could be Brown’s potential role as a two guard. While the rest of the league tries to play their versatile players down a position, a nice little counter could be to play them up one.

In a SI piece, Jimmy Butler’s trainer, Chris Johnson, spoke a little about Jaylen Brown’s offensive potential:

“For a kid like Jaylen, it’s footwork, balance. His ability to play off the catch. His ability to get into an attack position and score efficiently off of one and two dribbles. You don’t get a bunch of dribbles in the NBA. I also feel like Jaylen has an opportunity to be able to have a deadly mid-post game. Like other big guards — right now Jimmy (Butler) is really deadly on his mid-post game.”

The comment is not one you hear about a guy that’s being trained to become a potential stretch 4, but unlike most stretch bigs, his skill-set is much more expansive. While fans gawked at Brown’s phenomenal athletic ability, a few things caught my eyes a bit more. One, Brown has a phenomenal first step, if a defender takes a wrong angle on a closeout or bites on a pump fake, he’s finishing at the rim before they land.

Second, Brown has a very impressive handle. You won’t confuse him for a point guard, but his crossover mixed with his speed gives him a chance to become a one-on-one scorer at the next level.

The combination of size, strength, speed, and handle are a strong indicator that Brown may have a potential as a ball-handler. One of the common comparisons to Jaylen Brown is Jimmy Butler. Not only are the two identical in size (6’7, 220), but Butler has even gone on record to suggest that Jaylen Brown reminds him of a younger version of himself. When Butler’s trainer said that Brown had potential to become a deadly mid post player, it brought me back to plays like this:

We saw some flashes of this potential throughout Brown’s short college stint, and most notably in the summer league:

Brown’s potential as a ball-handler will be key to his upside. The ability to create his own shot raises the chances that he can have an offense run through him. His ability to get to the rim will not only create open opportunities for himself, but also open lanes for his teammates. And if he ever starts to knockdown the three-point shot at a consistent rate, he could become one of the hardest players to guard in the league.

With Boston’s four guards, Brown will most likely only get limited shots at handling the ball, but at this stage, that’s okay. At 19, he’ll still be adjusting to the NBA game, and will only be asked to use athleticism for now. However, in the situation that someone like Marcus Smart becomes a more fluent off-ball shooter or he’s in a lineup with only one other ball-handler, it wouldn’t shock me if Stevens opted to let him bring the ball up offensively. It may not be apparent to most yet, but Brown could very easily be the best player on the Celtics roster in three years. The outlines of a superstar seem to be evident when you take all of Brown’s skills into account, but patience is key. He’s still a basketball baby who will need to time to find himself as a player before he can take charge. Lucky for him, he plays on a winning team that will only ask him to play to his strengths. The Jaylen Brown era has begun, get your vines ready.

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