Jaylen Brown came to the Boston Celtics an imperfect product, as do most 20-year-old rookies. Often celebrated for his production for the California Golden Bears at the college level, many people — rightfully — had concerns about the odds of his bully-ball style transferring to the pros.
It wasn’t only that. Brown, at least on the surface, can be considered a Marcus Smart clone of sorts. An athletic guy who can get some offensive numbers, but is incapable of hitting a jumper even if the rim was widened to the point of it looking like the ocean.
With only an incredibly small sample size to work from, Brown has shown some flashes that he’s more than just an imposing force, or a guy who utilizes his best asset — his brute force by way of body build — to get to the charity stripe.
Brown is shooting a rather impressive 44 percent from beyond the arc. However, and this can’t be noted hard enough, the only reason his efficiency numbers from three look as swell as they do is because of a singular game.
Prior to Thursday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brown was only 1-3 from deep on the season. Honestly, though, this supposed ill-equipped shooter hitting 33 percent of his threes — if it were to continue throughout the season — would be a win for Boston. After all, he wasn’t brought in to be a weapon from deep this early in his career.
After falling short to the Cavs, though, Brown’s production numbers skyrocketed. In his first start of the season, the wing made 3-6 from deep, 8-16 from the floor, finished with 19 points and didn’t appear to shrink in any of the moments in which he had to look LeBron James square in the eyeballs.
On the season — again, a minuscule sample size — Brown is averaging nine points per game on 53 percent shooting from the floor, and the aforementioned surprising 44 percent from three.
That’s the good. The surprising good, even. But there is still some bad floating about his game.
With many an NBA Draft “expert” worrying about his offensive skills, most agreed Brown would still be able to help the Celtics out as a rookie in a variety of different ways. That this work-in-progress, maybe a season or two away talent from mattering on the offensive end, would play a key role in Boston’s potential growth as a team.
A 6-foot-7 athletic marvel, the worst case scenario called for him to be a solid defensive player, a guy who can get some boards, and one who will get to the free-throw line a bunch of times.
Through five games, while not yet being able to fully analyze his defense, Brown’s known good attributes have yet to show up.
He hasn’t rebounded the ball particularly well. Only averaging 2.2 boards per game, Brown’s season-high is five. To be fair to him, he’s also only averaging 20 minutes per outing (though, his per-36 would still only slot him around four per game).
More concerning than the rebounding, as that can simply be indicative of finding his role, is his lack of free-throw attempts.
A man who was attempting approximately a billion per outing during the Summer League, and changed the minds of many non-believers because he was getting so much production from the stripe, is only averaging 1.2 of those a night.
That might not seem like a huge deal, but it does lend some credence to the idea that his famed bully-ball tactics, which would result in foul calls at the collegiate and summer league levels, just won’t work as well for him during the regular season.
Essentially, NBA referees aren’t going to fall for a guy being a form of violent on offense, to the point of being the one actually committing the foul, then sending Brown to the line for some free-throws.
Circling back to the good here, though, Brown has only had one game in which he got to play extended time. It was against a very good Cleveland team, and the rookie more than stood his own ground. While this might not be indicative as to what sort of rookie campaign he’ll be able to have — there will be the ebbs and flows of a rookie season — it has to turn many into slightly more optimistic fans of his game.
Still, be wary of fully committing to the Brown bandwagon after five NBA appearances. He’s still attempting the inevitably ill-fated bully-ball, his three-point numbers are just not going to be this good another 20 games into the season and he remains a work in progress.
However, unlike some other rookie projects (hello, Malachi Richardson), at least he earned enough of Brad Stevens’ trust to get legit time on the floor. Furthermore, he’s showing earnest signs of being an impact player at the NBA level.
Brown’s super-duper early-season scouting report, in short: Glass is half full, not half empty, and after Thursday night, it appears as though Boston might be trying to add some more liquids into that cup.