Blakely: Jaylen Brown plays his way into rookie-of-the-year conversation

Blakely: Jaylen Brown plays his way into rookie-of-the-year conversation

As someone who has voted for the NBA’s rookie of the year award countless times in the past, I usually don’t put too much stock into a team’s record because, as we know, rookies do diddly when it comes to victories.
The good ones may move a team a step or two further away from the lottery, but their focus initially centers around bettering their game, not the team’s record.
And then there’s Jaylen Brown.
A top 3 pick on a team built to go deep into the playoffs isn’t exactly going to get the young fella on the floor for big minutes right away.


But to Brown’s credit, he has had to work a lot harder than most of his fellow rookies to get on the floor because the talent he’s competing against is better.
And while his minutes haven’t been nearly as abundant because of that, there’s no mistaking Brown’s impact on this Celtics team in his first NBA season.
That alone should keep him in the conversation for the league’s rookie of the year award, which is a wide-open race now that Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid’s season is over after having played just 31 games.
Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon and Sixers forward Dario Saric are the likely front-runners for the award at this point.



But to dismiss Brown’s candidacy would be punishing him for doing what every player who comes into the league is charged with doing, and that’s helping their team win games.

Boston (40-22) has the fifth-best record in the NBA, reaching 40 wins faster than any of fourth-year coach Brad Stevens' previous Celtics teams.
Isaiah Thomas is a top 5 MVP candidate, while Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder are all defensive standouts who should get some all-NBA defensive accolades.
Still, the growth and emergence of Brown has been most surprising.
Selected with the No. 3 pick in the June draft, the Celtics were doing all they could to move the pick in hopes of packaging it to land a player who could make an immediate impact.
But this seems to be another one of those situations where the best deal that Danny Ainge made, was the deal he didn’t make.
Because as you watch Brown play and see the growth in his game, it’s clear this kid can help Boston both in the short and long-term.
He has size, length and athleticism that puts him on a different plane than any of his teammates.
And maybe the most important part of Brown’s game that you don’t see, is his confidence.
His first NBA start came against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
All he did was have his best game of the season (up to that point, anyway), dropping a then-career high 19 points on James and the Cavs.
He made his share of mistakes that night, but did something you seldom see rookies do: he made in-game corrections on his mistakes as opposed to repeating them a few times before it sunk in as to what he could and could not do.
In conversations with Celtics assistant coaches, it’s that understanding of what he does wrong and how to fix it quickly, that makes him an atypical rookie.

His teammates know how impressive he is as a player. And having seen the NBA's rookies up close in games, they know that Brown is as good or better than most of them.
As much as they would love for him to get the award, they know all too well just how difficult it can be for a player in Brown’s position.
“It’s hard because most rookies who get rookie of the year are playing for bad teams,” Isaiah Thomas told reporters recently. “They play 35 minutes a game, take any shot [they] want. Bigger picture, it’s better for him to be on a playoff team, understand how to win games and he knows what he brings to the table. He’s a big part of what we got going. He definitely wants to win rookie of the year, but it’s hard going up against guys not really playing for nothing.”
The interesting thing about the rookie of the year award is that the premise of rewarding big numbers on bad teams flies in the face of what coaches and players often say about team success being the best path towards individual honors.
“For the most part, I do believe individual awards do follow team success at some rate,” Stevens told reporters recently. “But I also understand the rookies that are playing 38 minutes a game are going to be the ones that get the most attention; that’s just the way it goes. That’s one of the things I like about Jaylen. He doesn’t really care about that stuff. I think the biggest thing is he wants to get better every day. He’s been very consistent in his approach, whether he played 10 minutes the game before or started and played 30. He doesn’t change who he is on a day-to-day basis which is hard when you’re the third pick in the draft and everybody wants to see you play more and more and more. It’s hard to be consistent and just wanting to get better and learn.”
But Brown has done that, and in doing so, he has taught the league a lesson or two about his off-the-charts athleticism.
Arguably the best example of that came Friday night in the 115-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers when Brown caught an alley-oop lay-up, switched hands in mid-air and finished the play while being fouled.
“He [Avery Bradley] put it in the vicinity and I got it,” Brown told reporters after Friday’s win. “I appreciate Avery for throwing the pass.”

And those who will vote on rookie of the year should appreciate the fact that Brown is not your run-of-the-mill candidate who forces you to choose between which rookie is better at stuffing the staff sheet.
Instead, voters now have the option of voting for a guy who impacts winning, which is a rarity when you’re talking about the top rookies.

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

It’s hard being an NBA fan and not thinking about the Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day.

All that green, the shamrocks and the libations that so many of us enjoy even more today than most days, it’s pretty cool and certainly something – well, for me at least – to be thankful for.

The Celtics, yeah, they got a few – quite a few - things to be thankful for as well.

So what better day to point a few of them out than the unofficial holiday of the Celtics, St. Patrick’s Day.


When Danny Ainge drafted Terry Rozier three years ago, I admit I wasn’t a believer. You had guards, Danny Ainge. What do you need another one for? Draft Sam Dekker from Wisconsin, or UVA’s Justin Anderson. Hey, that kid Bobby Portis from Arkansas looks pretty good, too.

Ainge and the Celtics took a look at all those guys and came away convinced that Rozier was the best fit for what the wanted both in the short and long-term from that draft.

While Rozier has not emerged as a star, he has shown us all more than enough to know that he’s a pretty damn good player.

And throw in the fact that the dude was born on St. Patrick’s Day - as was Ainge - how can this guy not have a little bit of luck on his side?


LeBron James’ timing has been impeccable when it comes to leaving for greener pastures. So, when Kyrie Irving let the Cavs know he wanted out of Cleveland, it took a minute to sink that they were about to be LeBron’d by someone other than LeBron. But in making his desire to be traded, Irving was giving the Cavs an opportunity to get something in return for shipping him out to who knows where. The Cavs eventually wound up with a couple of draft picks, with one being a coveted first-rounder via Brooklyn in June’s NBA draft along with a trio of players headlined by Isaiah Thomas who was still on the mend from a hip injury.

The injury took longer to heal and the Cavs wound up trading Thomas and ex-Celtic Jae Crowder to teams out West.

Today, Cleveland is treading water as a middle-of-the-pack club that has shown very few signs of late that they will be nothing more than first-round fodder for some team with deep playoff aspirations and a roster ready to make that happen.

And Irving?

He was named to his fifth All-Star team and has spent most of this season playing for a Boston team that until recently held down best record in the East and currently sits in the No. 2 spot.

Irving is dealing with a sore left knee that has limited him recently to not playing, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury that will significantly impact what he does in the postseason for a Celtics team that, despite all their injuries, still holds out hope of making a strong postseason run.


Whenever you ask Brad Stevens about his decision to leave Butler for the Celtics in the NBA, he makes it clear from the outset how difficult a decision it was for him and his family.

Just imagine if Stevens had won a national title instead of having a pair of national runner-up finishes to his name? Leading a mid-major like Butler to an NCAA title, which would have meant slaying UConn or Duke in the process? Stevens would have been more than just a big deal on the Butler campus. He would have been seen as a basketball god who would have had an even tougher time walking away from what he had helped build at Butler.

So Celtics fans, be thankful for Duke and UConn because without their national title game wins over Butler, there’s a very good chance that Brad Stevens would not be coaching the Celtics now.


Remember back in 2013 when Danny Ainge had the serious basketball man crush on Duke’s Justise Winslow, a player that he was willing to trade plenty of draft picks (reportedly as many as four first-round picks) to acquire the rights to draft?

Ainge suspected the Miami Heat would select him with the No. 10 pick, so Ainge tried to swing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets who were in the No. 9 slot.

Charlotte liked Winslow, but they were more smitten with Frank Kaminsky. Because of that, they wouldn’t do a deal with the Celtics.

Not doing that deal allowed Boston to have the kind of assets to eventually acquire Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Irving, moves that have collectively led to Boston’s surge towards the top of the NBA standings despite having the fifth-youngest team in the NBA.

Winslow, selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick, has come nowhere close to being the impact player Miami was hoping they would get. And while Kaminsky has had some decent stretches, he too has been a bit underwhelming. Meanwhile, Boston kept its 16th overall pick and used it to select Rozier who as it turns out, has arguably been the best player among the trio.

Having a good scouting staff is important, of course.

But a little luck every now and then doesn’t hurt, either.




Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.