Can Jaylen Brown help return the Boston Celtics to NBA supremacy?
Aside from the Golden State Warriors, the Boston Celtics are in the most enviable position in the NBA right now. They have a young roster that proved to be a legitimate championship contender in last year’s playoffs and a stockpile of draft picks that are richer than those of some lottery teams. With that said, they still have work to do to truly compete with the Warriors, as the team hasn’t made the Finals since 2010.
At this point, the core of the lineup has a near-perfect balance of veteran and youth presence. The elder statesmen core of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward are an ideal trio to help up-and-coming superstar Jayson Tatum find his way in the league. However, the piece of this roster who often gets overlooked, and the Celtics’ most necessary piece to winning championship this year, is third-year wingman Jaylen Brown.
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Besides Brown, the Celtics only have one other shooting guard on their roster in second-year guard Jabari Bird. While Bird is an intriguing prospect for the team, he only played about eight minutes per game last season and does not look to be an important role player with guards Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart already coming off the bench. Also, Bird was just arrested for some extremely disturbing charges, meaning his spot on the roster is, at the very least, in jeopardy. Besides the fact that the Celtics operate in a switch-heavy defensive scheme, it still leaves the shooting guard role almost solely to Brown, who fits that duty perfectly.
Brown’s closest NBA comparison lies somewhere between Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson (although he has to make significant improvements to reach the magnitude of those players). He has their defensive prowess, including the ability to lock down opposing teams’ top wing players, and an athletic offensive game combined with solid shooting ability. The only skill Brown lacks when compared to those two stars is the consistent ability to score in isolation, although he doesn’t even need that on the Celtics’ roster.
The Celtics already have three isolation scorers in Irving, Hayward, and Tatum, the latter of which will most likely improve on this skill in the upcoming season. Plus, Irving and Horford will handle the passing duties for the offense while operating pick-and-roll plays at a high rate, leaving Brown to do what he does best: drive and shoot threes.
While Brown does make a contribution at mid-range, his game mostly revolves around taking shots from deep and heading to the basket. And although he was known as an athletic wing without a concrete jump shot going into the league, he has erased that stigma through constant shooting improvement from long range, as he now sits at almost 40%.
Even though Brown is a below-average shooter in the paint at only 58%, he’s still efficient overall, as he only takes about 12 shots per game. His effective field goal percentage sits at exactly 54%, which was about two percent higher than the league average last year.
As a third-year player who is still developing his game, Brown is aware not only that he doesn’t have to handle the scoring load on the Celtics’ offense given the high-volume shooters in Irving and Tatum, but also that he has the ability to be an active part of the offense through his specialized skill set.
However, Brown can put more emphasis on his defense next year as Hayward will now be a focal point of the offense, meaning he won’t have to worry about carrying the offensive load on any given night (even though he has the ability to).
In fact, Brown’s most potent value to the Celtics’ roster lies on the defensive end. Last season, players who shot with Brown as their primary defender made approximately six percent fewer shots than they normally would.
Furthermore, Brown is an extremely motivated and talented defender, and it is shown by his eagerness to guard some of the best players in the league. While many up-and-coming stars in the NBA focus on their offensive game to grow as a player, the unique ability of Brown to put emphasis on his defense just adds another wrinkle to the Celtics’ game plan, along with even more skillfullness for wunderkind coach Brad Stevens to work with.
As with many other Celtics defenders, Brown’s athleticism on that end often gets overlooked because he doesn’t put up gaudy statistics that are easy to track, such as steals per game (although he averaged one of those per game last year). Last season, the Celtics had four players in top 12 of defensive win shares in Smart, Brown, Tatum, and Horford, in that order. With Brown, Smart, and Horford, the Celtics have formed a defensive big three with ridiculous versatility, as each player holds a different position and can switch onto players close to their own size with relative ease.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Celtics find themselves in a perplexing position. Although they have one of the deepest rosters in recent memory, the Warriors have added to their virtually unbeatable squad with superstar center Demarcus Cousins. Although the Warriors seem too dominant for a relatively young squad to handle, the Celtics’ unheralded depth and role-playing ability of Jaylen Brown could also prove to be unstoppable in the eyes of the Warriors, or any other title-chasing foes.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-reference.com or Nba.com.
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