On any other team, what Jaylen Brown is doing this season would be a dominant storyline.
Brown, however, has been relegated to the shadows in Boston lately amid the Great Jayson Tatum Blossoming of 2020. The 22-year-old Brown has played like an All-Star and yet he’s been upstaged by the 21-year-old who earned an All-Star nod then decided to assert himself as one of the three best players in the Eastern Conference.
With all eyes on Tatum during Boston’s four-game road trip out west, Brown quietly produced four straight games with 20 points or better as the Celtics went 3-1.
Instead of brooding about the lack of attention about his impact, Brown has embraced Tatum’s star turn and what it means for to the bigger picture of Boston’s ability to compete for a title. Brown has seemingly used Tatum’s leap as fuel to keep pushing his own limits.
Consider this: There are 18 players in the NBA this season averaging better than 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. It’s pretty much the All-Star rosters with a few young stars mixed in, including Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Brown.
Even as Tatum erupts for some loud scoring nights — producing his third game of 30+ point during Wednesday’s trip-ending win over the Jazz — Brown has increased his own scoring average this season and at nearly an identical rate. Both players entered Wednesday’s game having increased their scoring average 7.4 points per game from last season.
Yes, Brown has been the beneficiary of the newfound attention that Tatum is drawing. But he’s had moments where he’s simply taken the baton, too.
Take Wednesday night as an example. Tatum went to the bench with 5 minutes to play in the third quarter and Boston down 1. Brown ignited a little run by feeding Marcus Smart for a reverse layup, then scored 10 of Boston’s next 12 points, all in a 2:36 span, culminating with a nifty stepback jumper to put Boston up 6.
The Celtics are now 23-5 this season when Brown scores 20 points or more. With Kemba Walker sidelined with knee soreness, that's made Brown’s offense all the more important. In typical Brown fashion, he shrugs off his own contributions, telling reporters in Utah after Wednesday’s game that he plans to be even better when the playoffs roll around.
The way that Brown has handled missing out on the All-Star game and being overshadowed by Tatum’s emergence speaks volumes about the player. He’s repeatedly said his focus is on the playoffs and helping Boston chase its loftiest postseason goals.
Brown's emergence deserves your attention, though. After all the frustrations of last season, Brown came back this year eager to showcase his true potential. He’s displayed new tricks, especailly his improved ball-handling and a more disciplined approach to attacking the basket.
Brown’s progress, when coupled with Tatum’s emergence, has altered what the Celtics are capable of this season. Boston will jockey with Toronto down the stretch for the No. 2 seed in the East but, regardless of where the Celtics land, they have the necessary talent to push for a Finals berth so long as the core is healthy.
When the postseason rolls around and defenses put even more attention on Tatum and Walker, Brown’s ability to capitalize on weaker defenders will be pivotal for Boston.
Brown’s usage rate is up this season but so is his efficiency. Stats site Cleaning the Glass tracks a metric called PSA — points per shot attempt — and Brown is averaging a career-best 118.8, which ranks in the 78th percentile among all wing players. That’s up from 109.6 last year, which ranked in the 55th percentile.
Brown is shooting a career-best 49.4 percent from the floor and a robust 38.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc. His 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game are both career highs. Add in inspired defense, routinely checking some of the opponent’s top options, including a lot of bigger bodies, Brown has made an impact at both ends of the court.
According to the NBA’s tracking data, Brown has limited opponents to 43.7 percent shooting this year, or 1.5 percent below those players’ season average. Brown’s versatility has been important, with the NBA’s tracking data suggesting he’s spent just about equal time on guards (47.5 percent of his defensive time) as forwards (45.6), all while logging 6.9 percent of his time on centers.
Like Tatum, the key for Brown is consistency. He’s got to find ways to positively impact winning, even beyond scoring, when Walker is back and Boston has its full complement of wings. But nothing from this season suggests we should expect anything less.
What Brown is doing this year deserves more attention. For as much excitement as there is around Tatum, Boston’s ability to move forward with both young players is an absurd luxury. And it feels like the two have only really scratched the surface on how good they can be.
Brown seems content to simply keep getting better and letting the rest of the league figure out on their own just how impactful he’s become.
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