For all the buzz around Kemba Walker’s health and Jayson Tatum’s momentum, the biggest key to the Boston Celtics’ success during the NBA restart in Orlando might be flying under the radar yet again: Jaylen Brown.
In a season in which Walker played at an All-Star level before Tatum grabbed the superstar baton, Brown’s advancements haven't gotten the spotlight they deserve.
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One season after a misfit roster stunted his growth, Brown came into the 2019-20 season hellbent on defying whatever notion we had about his ceiling. Showcasing tighter ball-handling and better court vision, Brown averaged career bests at 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists over 34 minutes per game before the shutdown.
There are not a lot of Eastern Conference teams that can trot out a third option like Brown, a scoring wing who shot 38.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc, but who can also put the ball on the ground and bully his way to the basket. Defensively, coach Brad Stevens can deploy Brown against all shapes and sizes, including bigger 4s, with confidence he will hold up.
Whispers from inside the bubble have been encouraging about Brown.
Celtics big man Enes Kanter marveled at Brown’s increased bulk and thinks the quarantine boxing workouts that Brown’s 78-year-old grandfather put him through have made Brown even more of a brick wall. Kanter also noted how any scrimmage team featuring both Tatum and Brown has been practically unbeatable during the Celtics' early scrimmages.
If Walker is healthy and Tatum is anywhere near where he left off, the Celtics can compete with anyone in the East. If Brown can elevate his game even more than we already saw this season, the Celtics are legitimate title contenders.
Boston was 12-0 in games where Brown scored 25 points or more this season. Inside the bubble, where jump shots could be rusty, his ability to get to the rim could be particularly important to Boston’s offense (it would help, too, if Brown and Tatum could generate more free throw attempts). Brown’s improved ability to create for others while attacking could be key, too.
Most importantly, Brown is battle tested.
He has more playoff experience (44 games) than teammates Gordon Hayward (24) and Walker (11) combined. We saw in 2018 what a Celtics team with Brown and Tatum at the helm can do when they surged minutes away from a Finals trip while both Kyrie Irving and Hayward were sidelined.
Orlando could be the perfect stage for Brown to demonstrate just how much the rest of the league has been sleeping on his progress.