BOSTON – In the past couple of weeks, we have seen Jaylen Brown’s athleticism provide a few, ‘how-the-hell-did-he-do-that?' moments for the Boston Celtics.
First there was the acrobatic lob against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he caught it with his left hand and, while still in the air, switched it to his right and drew contact before finishing the play off with the lay-up. And against the Chicago Bulls in transition, he dribbled behind his back, stopped to avoid a charge while tossing up the ball for what became an improbable lay-up.
Those plays highlight one of the many changes for the better that we have seen since the all-star break in Brown’s game. While he has been praised often for the strides he has made defensively, the 20-year-old rookie has also progressed in his ability to finish at the rim. It became apparent early on that Brown, selected by Boston with the No. 3 pick in last June’s NBA draft, had the ability to get to the paint quickly.
But finishing around the rim?
That was very much a work in progress.
“I’ve never played against guys as athletic or as good,” Brown said. “That’s been the transition.”
And as we’ve seen with Brown, he has been a quick study when it comes to making adjustments to better his play and in doing so, help the Celtics in their quest to finish out the regular season playing well going into the playoffs.
Experience has been a great teacher for Brown. The same can be said for his teammates.
“I study our guys like I.T. (Isaiah Thomas), how they turn corners and use their body to shield off and things like that,” Brown said. “I’ve watched more than I talked to guys, but I definitely learned a lot from our veterans and our young guys, too; how to get to the basket, how to create space.”
And the numbers clearly show Brown’s progress at getting to the paint and finishing at a higher rate. This season, Brown is shooting 58.8 percent on shot attempts within five feet of the rim. Since the all-star break, that number is up to 72.2 percent.
Brown’s teammates have noticed his improvement, as has head coach Brad Stevens.
“He’s had some great spurts, there’s no question,” Stevens said. “He’s played really well; he's probably ahead of where I thought he would be.”
But the NBA is like a marathon, with Brown not even a mile into this thing.
“He’s going to have to keep doing it,” Stevens said. “That’s the challenge you get further along into this.”
Said Thomas: “Things are slowing down for him. Earlier in the season he was going so fast and out of control. But now he’s slowing down. He’s very strong and athletic. Once he gets a step on somebody, more than likely he’s going to score. He’s letting the game come to him. He’s going to be special. He’s letting the game come to him.”
As much as Brown’s improvement has been fueled by his ability, just as significant a factor has been him getting an opportunity which is far from a given for any player coming into the NBA regardless of how high a draft pick they were.
“A lot of those guys who the game hasn’t slowed down for years, they don’t get the chance or if they do, it’s two or three minutes here and there and that’s tough for a young guy,” Thomas said. “He’s getting valuable minutes on a playoff team. He’s taking advantage of it. He’s learning each and every game, not just practice.”