Celtics Spotlight: Will Jaylen Brown stand out, or get lost in the shuffle?

Celtics Spotlight: Will Jaylen Brown stand out, or get lost in the shuffle?

One of the little known facts about Jaylen Brown is that while in high school he was the captain of his school’s chess team.

So as the fourth-year wing enters his first contract year in the NBA, it’s no surprise he’s been looking to hire an agent for the first time in his career, a move that should benefit him in the now as well as the future. Rumor has it he's already chosen ex-teammate Al Horford's agent, Jason Glushon, to represent him.

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Brown is taking a similar approach towards his play on the court which after spending most of his career playing both guard positions and some small forward, expect to see an expanded game this season that will have the 6-foot-7 Brown playing some power forward, too. 

It’s the kind of move that will shine an even brighter light on Brown’s versatility, which comes in handy when you’re talking about the future of the NBA -- and from Brown’s perspective, making sure you’re part of that future. 

 It’s a successful season for Brown if … 

… his playing time continues to exceed the 25-minute barrier. When he played at least 25 minutes last season, the Celtics were 25-16 (.610 winning percentage). When he played less than 25 minutes, Boston was 18-15 (.545 winning percentage). Because of the versatility that Brown has shown in the past and continues to display now, Boston is going to need him to be a defensive jack-of-all-trades this season. And when the postseason rolls around, playoff Jaylen has to show up. Brown has never been one of Boston’s top scoring options, and yet his numbers in the playoffs per-36 minutes are what you expect from one of your primary starters: 17.9 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from behind the arc.

It’s a disappointing season for Brown if … 

… he gets lost in the player shuffle and allows that to affect his play and potentially, his contract situation going forward. He has displayed a level of mental toughness during his time in Boston that makes one believe he’ll be fine. But this is new territory for the soon-to-be 23-year-old Brown, going through his first season with free agency likely around the corner. The hope is that he’ll continue to handle whatever is thrown his way in a professional manner and not let it impact his play, which was an issue at times for ex-Celtic Terry Rozier. After a strong postseason in 2018, Rozier did not handle his minutes being limited with the return of Kyrie Irving. Gordon Hayward is going to see a noticeable uptick in his playing time which may cut into the minutes that Brown receives. How he handles that will be one of the keys to both his success and the success of the Celtics this season. 

2019-2020 Outlook

Look for Brown to have a season similar to last year as far as being someone who floats in and out of the Celtics’ starting lineup. Brown showed that he could play with a level of consistency, both with the first group as well as being a major contributor off Boston’s bench. And while Brown’s individual numbers are similar as a starter and as a reserve, the most noticeable difference is the impact that Brown tends to make when he’s with the reserve unit. As a starter, Brown had a plus/minus of minus-1.5 points last season while his plus/minus as a backup was plus-3.4. 

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WATCH: Jayson Tatum ribs Bam Adebayo after Heat star crashes interview

WATCH: Jayson Tatum ribs Bam Adebayo after Heat star crashes interview

Only in the NBA bubble could two budding stars battle on the court one moment then ham it up in the media room the next.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was speaking to reporters via video conference Tuesday night after Boston's 112-106 loss to Miami when Heat big man Bam Adebayo strode into the room for his own interview session.

Adebayo wasn't in a waiting mood, though, so he tried to distract Tatum with a few incredulous looks from the corner.

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Here's the entertaining scene, as captured by ESPN's Rachel Nichols in Orlando:

Props to Tatum for maintaining his focus as Adebayo tried to run interference. The two young stars then shared a playful exchange in which Tatum appeared to chide Adebayo for benefiting from some whistles. (The Heat big man scored 11 of his 21 points on free throws thanks to 18 free throw attempts, a game high.)

"You shot free throws like you won MVP or something," Tatum appeared to tell Adebayo.

Their banter was all in good nature: Tatum and Adebayo were teammates in the 2016 McDonald's All-American Game and entered the 2017 NBA Draft together, so they go way back. But Tatum still may have had a bitter taste in his mouth after picking up five fouls and getting hit with a technical in Tuesday's loss.

Both players are also in the running for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award amid career seasons; Adebayo is averaging a double-double (16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds) with 1.3 blocks per game for Miami, while Tatum is racking up 23.4 points and seven rebounds per game as he blossoms into an NBA star.

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NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

We could sit here and scream about how poor Boston’s defense has been inside the bubble. The Celtics own a defensive rating of 117.9 after their first three seeding games, and only one team has a worse mark (the helter-skelter Sixers).

We could lament Boston’s lethargy after the team whiffed Tuesday with a chance to essentially lock up the No. 3 seed while playing a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat team that was on the second night of a back-to-back.

Boston hasn’t played with any sort of consistent energy in its three games, falling behind early against Milwaukee, coughing up a big lead against Portland, and trying to play catchup all night against Miami.

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But here’s one thought we couldn’t shake while watching Tuesday’s game: What a luxury it is for Miami to have a rookie like Tyler Herro on their bench. Herro chipped in 11 points over 22 minutes during the Heat’s 112-106 triumph.

With Marcus Smart in foul trouble — so much so that he fouled out late in the third quarter — Boston lacked a bench boost. Take away Enes Kanter’s 10 points and the Celtics’ reserve trio of Grant Williams, Brad Wanamaker, and Smart combined for 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

At one point during the second half, Celtics coach Brad Stevens dispatched Romeo Langford for his first seeding-game minutes but Langford turned in a scoreless 3 minutes, 44 seconds, in which he mostly blended into the scenery.

Herro, of course, went one spot ahead of Langford in the 2019 draft. There had been a buzz before draft night that the Celtics were fond of Herro and that he had impressed the team with his shooting in one of his workouts. There might have even been a few groans inside the Auerbach Center when Miami snagged the Kentucky product at No. 13.

The Celtics ultimately took Langford, who has no shortage of potential and might eventually be a better pro. But his rookie season got off to a slow start as he healed from hand surgery and then he dealt with a bunch of minor maladies that even limited how much floor time he got with the Maine Red Claws of the G-League.

Herro has now appeared in 50 games for Miami while shooting a robust 39 percent beyond the 3-point arc on 5.4 attempts per game. He wasn’t even Miami’s best rookie this season — that distinction goes to Kendrick Nunn — but Herro won Erik Spoelstra’s confidence and is now a key rotation piece while logging 26.9 minutes per game.

On Tuesday, Miami’s four-man bench combined for 43 points on 31 shots while each player logged at least 21 minutes of floor time. For Boston, Semi Ojeleye missed five of his six shots, including multiple open 3s. Smart finished 0-for-5 shooting.

Make no mistake, Boston will lean heavy on its core players when the playoffs arrive. When Kemba Walker is off his minute restriction, and combined with a hefty dose of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, that might leave only a small handful of minutes for reserves not named Smart.

Still, games like Tuesday night show how important it is to have players that can take the baton, even if it’s only on rare nights. None of Boston’s younger players have shown enough this year to earn Stevens’ unwavering trust.

Again, guys like Grant Williams and Langford could have bright futures. Maybe Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters, too. That’s especially important for Boston because of how much money they have tied up long term in their core players.

But the fact of that matter is that, right now, none of Boston’s rookies have seized their opportunity, nor has 2018 first-round pick Robert Williams, who was only inserted late in Tuesday’s game to defend an inbounds attempt with his length and bounce.

Those players could get another chance to show what they’ve got on Wednesday when Boston plays a back-to-back against the Nets. With Walker set to rest his knee and Stevens unlikely to go too heavy on starter minutes in the team’s first (and only) bubble double, younger players will need to take advantage of whatever minutes come their way.

Herro won’t be the difference between a first-round upset and a first-round exit for Miami. But the Heat are well-positioned moving into the future because of the progress their youngest players made this season. It’s critical teams develop talent if they are going to commit most of their money to their top stars.

The Celtics are left waiting for their youngest players to show they are ready.

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