Celtics

Jaylen Brown not focused on All-Star buzz: 'The best is yet to come'

Jaylen Brown not focused on All-Star buzz: 'The best is yet to come'

BOSTON — Many of his teammates had already changed and scurried out of the practice facility Tuesday afternoon when Jaylen Brown, fresh off his typically lengthy post-practice ball-handling and shooting work with player enhancement coach/video coordinator Tony Dobbins, trekked upstairs to the Celtics’ cardio bridge for a few minutes on the exercise bike.

The Celtics were scheduled for an afternoon flight to Toronto and, it being Christmas Eve, players and coaches had plenty of loose ends to tie up before the holiday. Brown, even as his play this season has spawned some All-Star buzz, was in no rush to leave the practice facility.

"I’m not really paying attention to [the All-Star buzz],” Brown said in an empty gym after his post-practice workout was finally complete. "It would be a blessing. It would be extremely dope to even be mentioned in the conversation. To be honest, I still think I can be a lot better. I think the best is yet to come for me this season.

“I’m just trying to get better, trying to continue to win games, be a team-first guy. But I definitely think the best is yet to come."

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Twenty-four hours later, Brown put up 30 points on 10-of-13 shooting while leading Boston to a rare win on Canadian soil. His night included a 16-point third-quarter explosion in which he made all five of the shots he took.

That outburst included: A trio of 3-pointers, a 20-foot pull-up after twice putting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on skates with crossovers, and, in the closing seconds of the frame, a double-spin move to set up a 16-foot fadeaway over an incredulous Patrick McCaw.

Brown was simply happy to win in Toronto, a place the Celtics had never won during his NBA career. But the 23-year (and 62-day)-old Brown also became the youngest Celtics player to score 30+ points in a Christmas game, breaking Bill Russell’s record (24 years, 316 days) that had stood for 61 years.

Brown is now averaging 20.2 points, 7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 steals over 33.6 minutes per game this season. The Celtics have three players averaging 20+ points per game with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum the others.

Brown is playing like an All-Star this season given the advancements in his play.

Yes, Brown is scoring more and that’s the stat that most people’s eyes go to first, but the real strides have come with his ball-handling and playmaking, which have also allowed him to more aggressively attack the basket.

Yes, Brown is shooting 39.1 percent beyond the arc but it’s been his ability to finish 70.7 percent of all shots near the rim that has really helped his shooting percentage spike to 51.4 percent overall (up from 46.5 percent the last two seasons).

So what exactly makes Brown think the best is yet to come? And what exactly does he have up his sleeve next?

“I’m working on a lot of different stuff,” said a not-ready-to-reveal Brown. "And a lot of the stuff I’ve been working on for years is now being able to be shown in the games. And some of the stuff I’ve been working on will be able to be shown in the near future.”

As Brown would note, it’s not that he hasn’t been capable of some of what he’s doing now, the opportunity simply wasn’t always there. We saw these sort of flashes during the 2018 playoff run but last season left everybody on the roster struggled to adapt to their roles.

Brown hasn’t had any such issues this year. Even as Gordon Hayward returned from injury in Toronto, Brown feasted on open looks and available driving lanes.

Can Brown muscle his way into a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad? Some of that might hinge on just how many spots the Celtics can secure, though sitting second in the East with a. 750 winning percentage certainly helps their case for multiple bodies.

Still, if Kemba Walker is a slam dunk for a spot, can Boston get one or both of its young wings on in Brown and Tatum? Do those two risk splitting the coaches’ vote for a reserve spot?

The wildcard here might be fan balloting, which accounts for 50 percent of the vote towards starters. If fans help Kyrie Irving land a starting spot, even as he’s missed extended time, the glut of talent from teams at the top of the East will make it harder for Boston to get even two spots.

Just count up the deserving bodies in the conference. Start with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler, and Pascal Siakam (depending on how much time he misses here). Then there’s guys like Bam Adebayo and Malcolm Brogdon who deserve spots.

Regardless of whether you classify Brown as a guard — as the NBA has in their interactive voting map — or, more appropriately, as a forward given the players he’s typically defended, it leaves him fighting for spots with the likes of Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis, Spencer Dinwiddie, Tobias Harris, and Trae Young.

The case for Brown: He ranks in the 82nd percentile for usage at his position and is in the 89th percentage averaging 122.8 points per 100 possessions, according to stats-tracking website Cleaning The Glass. His assist percentage is still middling (58th percentile) but his percentage has spiked from years past (jumping from 7.5 percent last year to 11.8 percent this year).

Then there’s Brown’s defense. Even as he’s been tasked with defending both top wing scorers and a variety of 4s, he’s held opponents to 42.9 percent shooting, or 1.7 percent below those players’ season average. The on/off splits suggest Boston’s defense has been better without Brown on the court but some of that is the talent disparity in the minutes.

Brown seems to have the right approach. He’s not getting caught up in campaigning for a spot; he’s focused on improving his play and letting the results persuade the Eastern Conference coaches that vote for the reserves.

If the best is truly yet to come, he can give those coaches plenty to think before they vote next month.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Friday at 3:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 4 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker was this close to becoming a New York Knick instead of a Boston Celtic last summer.

Before signing a four-year, $141 million contract with the C's, Walker considered the Knicks in free agency. The 30-year-old said last fall he believed Boston was "just a better fit" for him despite New York being his hometown team.

Walker shed more light on whether he had serious interest in joining the Knicks during this week's episode of The Ringer's "R2C2" podcast.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

“To be honest, yes. Yes. Very serious, very,” Walker said ... "Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks were one of my top priorities, actually, because I was thinking they were gonna get another player. But it didn’t work out.”

Watch below:

New York was rumored to be in the running to sign Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant, but both stars chose the Brooklyn Nets instead. It was a rough offseason for the Knicks, to say the least.

In his first year as a Celtic, Walker is averaging 20.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. The four-time All-Star has dealt with a nagging knee injury over the last several months but is encouraged by the progress he's made in the Orlando bubble.

"For me to feel like myself again, it definitely feels good. Just gives me a lot of confidence heading into those games," Walker said on the "R2C2" podcast.

The C's will need a healthy Walker if they're to have a shot at Banner 18.

To listen to the full episode, go here.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

The Boston Celtics gave their best performance of the NBA's restart in Wednesday night's blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, and a boost from two of their most recent first-round picks played a key role in the victory.

Boston's bench scoring has been hit or miss in the seeding games so far, but the second unit didn't disappoint against the Nets. Second-year center Robert Williams scored a career-high 18 points with five rebounds and three blocks. Rookie guard Romeo Langford didn't make a huge impact offensively with only four points, but his defense was fantastic. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Nets are one of the worst teams in the Orlando bubble, so while the performances of Williams and Langford are no doubt encouraging, the Celtics need these guys to make a similar impact versus the top teams in the Eastern Conference, too. 

On a new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, our C's insider Chris Forsberg gives his take on Williams' and Langford's play so far, and what the future holds for them with the playoffs approaching.

"Here's what I think Brad will take away. He'll sit back and he'll say, none of these guys have really stepped up and grasped their opportunity through the scrimmage games and early seeding games, and with a chance because Kemba (Walker) was out and the starters didn't play a lot of minutes (against the Nets), (the young guys) finally sort of grasped the opportunity," Forsberg said. "But again, it's what you do from there. ... It's not like you have one good game and (Celtics coach Brad Stevens) just throws you in there. If I had to guess which rookie is still most likely to have the biggest impact, I'm starting to lean toward Langford because he has shown defensively that you can put him in there and even in small bursts of minutes be able to give you something, and to be a steady presence. I think that's important.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Rob Williams, Langford help C's carry momentum vs Raptors? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"It's nice to see Rob Williams out there, and there were still a good amount of defenses lapses -- a lot of which he makes up for because he's so athletic. But when I convene the Robert Williams fan club for our weekly meeting tonight, I'm going to tell the congregation, look, let's not get too high or too low, we have to see Rob come back and build off (Wednesday night). My hope is that Rob is the first guy in the gym, even on an off day after two games. That he's in there working, busting his butt and showing that he's ready for that opportunity. If he does that, he's got a better chance to get some minutes. If he got a DNP (against the Raptors), I wouldn't be shocked because that's how Brad operates. But Grant (Williams), Romeo -- one of those guys is going to get a chance in the playoffs and they have to be ready for that opportunity."

Robert Williams could see some action versus the Raptors for the simple fact that Toronto is a pretty big team. He would be a good matchup against Raptors center Marc Gasol or power forward Serge Ibaka. Grant Williams also has good size and a high defensive IQ, so he could match up against those Raptors big men as well. 

Coaches typically shorten their rotations in the playoffs and only give minutes to players they can trust. But there are plenty of scenarios, including foul trouble, injuries, etc., that force guys at the end of the bench to play a role. For the Celtics to make a deep playoff run, they'll need young players such as Langford and both Williams' to give them some good minutes against contending teams. 

One of the best ways to find out which players are capable of handling that burden is actually giving them minutes before the playoffs, and Friday's game against the Raptors is a good opportunity to see how these young guys respond.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.