Under The Radar:
The underappreciation of Jaylen Brown has gotten out of control. Despite his impressive playoff run and exceptional 2-way play last season, as well as his position at #8 on PPG scoring this year, he still lives in Jayson Tatum’s shadow in the eyes of many basketball talking heads and analysts. I’m here to tell you not only why this lack of recognition is unfair, but why he is the best player on the Celtics and will make an All NBA 1st or 2nd Team this year.
What Jaylen Brown has done on the basketball court and in the film room has been truly unbelievable. The way he has continued to go back to the drawing board in the offseason and figure out what he needs to get better at has been unique and special. When he came out of college, he was extremely raw. To be quite honest, he had a bad feel for the game and was pretty unskilled; all he really brought to the team was energy on the defensive end and a high flying finish here and there. He wasn’t reliable shooting the ball from anywhere on the court and he had a problem finishing at the rim. In only about 4 years, he has turned himself into a polished offensive player to add to his defensive prowess, and has become, I will argue, one of the top 10 players in the NBA.
Ball Handling and “Feel”:
Jaylen came into the league as a work in progress. On drives to the hoop he often lost the ball and got pushed off his line - he had a hard time controlling his body and the ball which made it tough for him to make decisive and efficient decisions. Ball handling seemed to be the first thing that Jaylen realized he needed to improve upon to be playable in this league. He greatly improved this area of his game during and after his first two seasons, which really allowed him to make a jump. When you’re able to handle the ball, the game slows down for you. You spend less time focusing on controlling the ball and handling pressure and more time with your eyes up making reads. He started to fumble the ball less and became more composed and poised with the ball in his hands. It’s really incredible to notice the differences in Jaylen’s game from his rookie season to the next couple years, specifically in the “feel for the game” category. If a player does make a significant jump in this category (which is incredibly tough), it rarely happens in a year; players do not just wake up one day and understand how to make reads at NBA level quickness with NBA athletes in your face. It normally takes years and years of film breakdown and experience to improve upon things like shot selection and pace (by pace I mean the pace at which the player plays; better players are often able to play “quick without hurrying” by changing speeds at the right moments, not taking aimless dribbles, and using their bodies effectively). For Jaylen Brown, it took an offseason. This season, Jaylen requires the fewest dribbles of any guard and the 4th fewest touches of any player averaging more than 20 points to get his numbers. This is a testament, I believe, to his improved ball handling and feel. His decision making is at an elite level and it shows in those touches and dribbles numbers. It might be counterintuitive, but the better ball handler you are, the fewer dribbles and moves you need to get an opening to the hoop.
Jaylen began exclusively as a high flyer who could finish above the rim in transition but rarely in other situations. He had a poor left hand and, quite frankly, really poor touch around the rim. He shot 48% on layups his rookie season - that’s really, really bad. This is common for young, explosive athletes though. Oftentimes they don’t have to finish with too much contact or go to their weak hand earlier in their careers because they can simply jump over the defenders they play against - of course it’s a rude awakening for these players when they are finally playing with athletes who are as talented and athletic as them. But with his newfound ball handling ability and increased feel and awareness, Jaylen was able to improve his finishing drastically and adjust well to the heightened athleticism of the NBA. He quickly realized that he would have to rely on more than just his athletic ability and was going to have to develop some finesse in his game. And BOY did he develop some finesse. Jaylen increased his finishing percentage to 54%, 55%, and 62% (2020-2021 season) in the following seasons. This is especially impressive given the expanded pressure he faced nightly as he became more of a focal point of the Celtics offense. He truly looks like a different player around the rim than he used to. He’s able to make high, contested finishes off the glass with both hands, something he could rarely do in the beginning of his career with EITHER hand. He gets to two feet a lot more and seems a lot more in control of his body when he gets into the lane. It seems like his touch has improved significantly, too, which is a fairly unique skill to develop, especially this late in one’s career; it’s usually viewed as more of a natural ability. Jaylen didn’t stop his development there, though. Next, he set his mind on becoming an elite shooter.
Extending His Touch Beyond the Key:
Once Jaylen was able to break people down and get to the hoop, the next logical step for him was to work on his shooting, specifically his 3 point shot. It’s where the league is trending and it’s an extremely sought after skill in today’s pace and space game. In 2018-2019, JB shot 34% from three. He followed that up by shooting 38% the next season and is currently shooting 44% this year. I noticed a difference in the bubble last season; he just seemed like he had an extra level of confidence in his 3 point shot. He was taking more threes in transition and above the break, and his success allowed him to continue to let it fly. This season, Brown is number 1 in the NBA in pull up jump shot percentage at 50% (Min 5 pull up FGA per game and at least 20 MPG). He’s been impossible to stop in the mid range, simply rising over defenders with his athletic ability and stroking it at the top of his jump. He’s even extended his pull up range to three this season. There’s not much more to be said than the fact that Jaylen got in the gym and worked tirelessly on his shot. His pull up mid range, his standstill three, pull up three, you name it. Jaylen worked on it and got better at it. The development is happening before our eyes at an unprecedented pace, and not nearly enough are talking about it.
Jaylen has what it takes to be a star in this league. It’s been well noted how intelligent he is, and I think that’s a big reason why we’ve seen this rapid development. He’s both smart enough to figure out what his deficiencies are and address them in a logical and effective way, and dedicated enough to put the hours in required to fix them. This is what separates good players from great players in this league. The good players might be content with scoring 18ppg and continuing their slow, gradual development; great players, on the other hand, completely transform their games in the offseason and add something totally new. Go watch the film of LeBron and how teams defended him in his early seasons. Teams would give him a step or two, essentially allowing him barely-contested pull up jump shots, both from inside the arc and from three. Now, LeBron is a consistent 3 point shooter who is able to hit step back, contested threes with some reliability. He’s a different player than he was earlier in his career; what he’s lost in athletic ability or burst he has made up for in his shooting, which has allowed him to prolong his career unlike anyone else. Joel Embiid has done something similar - he’s brought his game outside the perimeter and it has changed the way he operates in the post. He didn’t allow himself to be put into the box of “post player”, and he’s changing the way we view big men because of it. I see Jaylen Brown’s development fitting into this category. He will attack the offseason with vengeance and a need to improve at a faster rate than his fellow stars. Furthermore, he will strive to show the entire league that he’s not done evolving yet. There’s something else, though, that I find incredibly impressive about Brown. He has been playing in Jayson Tatum’s shadow for essentially his entire time in Boston, and it has seemingly not influenced him one bit. Tatum gets most of the credit for the C’s success and is by far the most talked about player on the team. Unlike many other star players in this league, JB hasn’t let this unfair treatment affect him, and I think that’s a sign of his humility and maturity. For such a young player, this is a level of professionalism we don’t often see, and it’s a testament to how special of a player and person Jaylen is.
Jaylen The Facilitator:
Jaylen’s development is far from over. Just as people have come to understand who Brown is as a player - an elite 2 way player who can break you down with the dribble and score at all three levels - is exactly when Jaylen will go back to the drawing board and add a completely new part to his game. He’s already shown flashes of brilliance as a playmaker; he’s made some beautiful lob passes and pocket passes to Theis and Rob Williams out of the pick and roll, and he’s gotten a lot more comfortable at making reads in delayed transition situations (something he struggled with early in his career). This is the definite logical next step for Jaylen in his development, and I expect him to approach it as such. In fact, I expect Jaylen to address it quite quickly. The C’s have clearly not gotten enough production from their role players and bench this season, and I think Brown will take it upon himself to get them more involved. Given how quickly the other developments in his game have been, I could imagine him becoming an improved facilitator this season. Watch out for it… this is your warning NBA.