Many people doubted he was worth the money, but Jaylen Brown continues to defy what skeptics believe.
Coming off of what many dubbed a disappointing third campaign in the NBA, many questions arose surrounding Brown.
“Where was the player we saw in the 2018 playoffs?”
“Why didn’t they package him for Kawhi Leonard?”
“Is this all he is going to be?”
Sure, some of those questions were fair.
After a tough start to the 2018-2019 season, Jaylen was demoted to the bench. His counting numbers were down, and he was less efficient from the field. Although he had the same FG% as the season prior, it came at the cost of a large drop in 3P%, not ideal in today’s NBA.
After Kawhi Leonard helped lead the Toronto Raptors to a championship, many began to point to Danny Ainge, master of trades, and question why he did not pull the trigger on a deal for Leonard the previous offseason.
According to reports, the Spurs would have been satisfied with a deal centered around Brown and Marcus Smart.
Ainge could have used the potential Jaylen showed in the 2018 playoffs and parlayed it for Kawhi Leonard, rolling out a team with him, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford (among others). Seeing as this is a more talented roster on paper that the Raptors team that won it all, many thought Ainge was crazy for saying no, especially in hindsight given how the Celtics season has just ended.
Even if it were for just one season, hadn’t Banner 18 been the goal since 2008? Ainge, in theory, could have had it if he let go of Brown, who now seemed like a damaged good.
Sports fans have a tough time seeing long term. Yes, this includes me too, none of us are perfect. Just as quickly as people saw Brown and his teammate Jayson Tatum help carry the Celtics within a game of the NBA Finals in 2018, roughly a year later the calculus was deemed to have changed.
Brown was no longer viewed as a sure thing, a future good player in the league, and certainly not the next Kawhi Leonard.
The intensity of the moment can do that to people.
Going into this season, the Celtics constructed a new roster, adding All-Star point guard Kemba Walker while Kyrie Irving and Al Horford left for (presumably) greener pastures. Gone too were Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, and Terry Rozier.
In their absence, Tatum would be asked to do more, as would Brown… or would he?
Brown was subject to trade rumors, with a dream of dealing him for Wizards SG Bradley Beal, pairing up him and Tatum, both St. Louis natives.
It did not happen.
Beal signed an extension in D.C., then Brown re-upped in Boston.
The original $115 million over 4 years shocked many, and even when it was reported it was only $103 million with $12 million in incentives, many were still skeptical.
Then the games started.
Jaylen, back in a starting role, is playing the best basketball of his career.
He is averaging 20.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, and 0.4 BPG, all career highs (except for BPG, which is tied with other years). He is attempting 14.6 shots per game, similar to his 2018 postseason workload, and his efficiency is back up.
He’s shooting 51.4% from the field (a career high), and 39.1% from 3 while attempting 5.1 threes per game. He’s become much more effective driving, as reflected in his 2P%, and his free throw percentage is up almost 10% from a year ago.
His defensive production looks similar to 2017-2018, not elite, but good when it matters.
As the Celtics stand at 21-7, the third best record in the NBA (second in the Eastern Conference), Jaylen Brown is playing a huge part in their early season success.
My question is why so many people doubted him.
I go back to this tweet a lot, because I think it was lost to a lot of people, even those in the city of Boston.
This was a 30-game sample from the end of last season, and if you look at Jaylen’s numbers in 25 games this season, you see some parallels.
Jaylen is absolutely doing better this season, but this sample reflects that it was possible for him if he were given a bigger opportunity. He’s done his part in improving facets of his game (free throw shooting, shot selection, ball-handling), but to act like it wasn’t possible amazes me.
We’ve seen Jaylen make a jump before, and it was between his rookie and sophomore seasons in the NBA.
Maybe that’s easier in theory when you go from playing 17 MPG as a rookie to 30 MPG in your second year, and take 6 more shots per game, but Jaylen did look better in all areas except FT%.
He’s just 23 years old, and to think that someone that age cannot continue to improve is a problem in sports, and especially the NBA.
Jaylen had a really rough start to his 2018-2019 season, but he was not alone. Tatum, while scoring more points and continuing to play good defense, saw his efficiency go down. This happened to Al Horford too. Terry Rozier did not look good, and most of the team did not either, except for Kyrie, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris (through February).
It was a tough season for the team as a whole, as they failed to meet their expectations, but critics can be crucial when you give them a taste of what you can be one season, then fail to deliver the next.
Boston, helped in large part by Jaylen and Tatum, gave people reason to believe a champion was forming… only the roster at hand could not deliver.
Given a fresh start, a sign of confidence in the form of a new contract, and a bigger workload, Jaylen Brown has not disappointed.
He has been my favorite story of the Celtics season thus far, and is making people realize his 2018 postseason was not a fluke.
He is also reminding the world that progression is not linear, and that bumps can get in the way.
Jaylen has pushed through them, and looks like an All-Star.
Getting that nod remains to be seen, but for the lows he suffered a season ago, to be in that discussion is an honor, but I’m sure Jaylen is hungry for more, and will continue to work on his craft and find any remaining doubters he has and expose them once and for all.
It’s a long season, and new bumps could emerge, but Jaylen’s been there before.
This is a marathon, not a sprint, and he’s just getting started.
Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)