There are mixed expectations for Boston Celtics’ high-flying rookie Jaylen Brown. The one-and-done California Bear is an elite athlete who’s looked promising during exhibitions, yet needs a heap of development.
Danny Ainge picked Brown for his long-term upside and possible interchangeability. Brad Stevens will have to gradually and methodically integrate him into the system, groom his skills and maximize his two-way impact. Brown’s rookie season won’t be judged much on production, but rather his grasp of Boston’s schemes and refining his game.
The Celtics are a playoff team on the rise, and they already have a formidable core. Brown may not have a huge part in their 2017 postseason push unless he proves he can consistently execute and contribute something special.
Let’s examine what Boston should anticipate from the enigmatic forward in year one:
Offensive role, expectations and limitations
We mentioned Brown’s physical supremacy, and it can’t be understated. Not only is he 6’7″, 225 pounds with a 6’11.75″ wingspan, but he can also jump out of the gym and burst laterally. He’s ready to compete with top-shelf NBA athletes in the open floor when those opportunities arise. When foes give him a crease, he explodes toward the rim.
Brown’s not hesitant to aggressively attack downhill. He has the rare combination of elusive agility and strength to fight through contact. He also has a promising pump-and-go move, and he’s not bad with his left hand. Here are some examples of his slashing prowess from Summer League and preseason action:
Don’t expect all his forays to the rim to succeed. Brown still needs to work on his touch around the rim, his footwork when starting a drive and his decision-making during plays. Also, opponents will clog the lane if Brown doesn’t consistently prove he can make outside jumpers.
That brings us to the pivotal facet that could make or break his rookie year—and subsequently, his career. Can Brown connect from the perimeter?
At Cal, he demonstrated a rigid shooting motion with inconsistent body mechanics and an inconsistent release. The result was 30 percent on three-pointers and 30 percent on all two-point jumpers, per Hoop-math.com. He then shot 23 percent from the NBA arc during summer league, followed by 2-of-6 in his first couple of preseason tilts.
The good news is that his form looks more consistent now than it did a few months ago. Brown coolly drained a couple of triples against the Charlotte Hornets Thursday. However, opponents will probably still wall off the paint and give him deep jumpers until he delivers a bigger sample size.
Brown’s scoring arsenal also includes some mid-post effectiveness, thanks to his quickness and strength. While he doesn’t have a wide range of advanced moves, Brown can spin and go up strong through traffic to convert bank shots and short turnaround shots.
Elsewhere on offense, Brown’s shown flashes of playmaking ability, including four assists Tuesday against Philadelphia 76ers. His athleticism will generate some electrifying drive-and-dish plays this season. On the downside, his shaky decision-making will lead to several turnovers. I’m not sure Stevens will trust Brown with the ball during tight games.
Stevens will make sure Brown gets playing time to develop, but not in ways that would jeopardize Boston’s playoff pursuit. Brown will come off the bench, likely as the eighth or ninth man in the rotation. He’ll have to compete with the likes of Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green and James Young for wing/forward minutes off the bench.
If he plays 17-23 minutes per game, he’ll post stats in the following range: 7-9 points, 4-5 rebounds, 1-3 assists, 42-44 percent shooting and 28-32 percent on three-pointers. It’s definitely not enough to enter the Rookie of the Year conversation, or perhaps even All-Rookie team honors, but it’s a good stepping stone.
Defense and rebounding
One of the most exciting aspects of Brown’s overall potential is his defensive quickness and versatility. He has a chance to become a truly interchangeable stopper who could guard positions 1 through 4.
When he’s locked in, Brown is a sideline-to-sideline pest who can steer opponents away from the hoop and force turnovers. He has great lateral quickness for a 6’7″, 225-pound forward. Even during his rookie year, Stevens will probably let Brown dabble against both small forwards and shooting guards. His foot-speed and length will challenge playmakers and slashers.
Brown won’t dominate on defense, however, until he can regularly execute the fundamentals. Last year, lapses in alertness and poor decision-making resulted in missed assignments and a few foul rashes.
Right now, he is a better isolation defender than an off-ball helper. Although he showed a willingness to play help defense, he often got caught out of position at Cal. Evan Wheeler of Upside & Motor explained this deficiency:
Brown’s defensive awareness is pretty good, his head is usually always on a swivel, but he does get lazy at times when defending off the ball. He’s a good communicator defensively, but he does get caught regularly cheating in too much off the ball, which leads to open perimeter shots for whatever man he’s defending. This doesn’t really concern me all that much and is something he should get better at almost immediately in the NBA, but it is an area Brown needs to work on.
Fortunately, he is still young, and he’s shown slight improvements on defense leading up to this season. It will take a little time for him to build good habits and execute every night.
In the rebounding department, Brown should be good but not great in year one. His leaping ability and muscle will corral boards at a steady rate. Once he becomes better at establishing position, Brown could grab up to seven or eight boards per game. For now, he’ll snag between four and five in his modest role.
Brown’s lucky to be on a club that’s maximized its top acquisitions and has gradually developed high-end role players. The Celtics won’t expect him to carry a substantial burden this season, yet he’ll see a few decent chunks of playing time to develop.
The worst case scenario: a trial-by-error season in which Brown fails to win Stevens’ trust entering the playoffs. The best case scenario: Boston weaponizes his athleticism, giving him valuable experience throughout the winter and into the postseason.