The Rise of Jaylen Brown

Only six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season, a summer filled with controversial, intricate roster decisions felt useless. Boston’s recently acquired star, Gordon Hayward, went up for an alley-oop only to come crashing down — bringing the optimism and enthusiasm that filled preseason chatter along with him.

Hayward has since been ruled out for the 2017-18 season from a gruesome looking fractured tibia and ankle dislocation. While millions of thoughts and prayers are with Gordon, all NBA fans can do is hope for a successful, healthy comeback.

A night that began as a nightmare, finished with optimism around the organization — including the details of the Hayward injury. The Celtics were lifted back into a competitive game on the backs of their two young kids, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

While Jayson Tatum’s double-double debut was the first by a Celtics rookie since the great Larry Bird, Jaylen Brown went toe-to-toe with LeBron James by scoring 25 points and adding 6 rebounds. The following night, Jaylen added another effort of 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists.

With those first two performances came arguably the two toughest challenges Brown will face all season — defending LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Despite it only being two games — two losses for that matter — those who have watched have been very pleased with what they’ve seen from Jaylen thus far.

NCAA BASKETBALL: JAN 21 Arizona State at Cal
Image Credit: Today’s Fast Break

Since the get-go, basketball fans have been incapable of deciding what they’ve thought of Jaylen Brown, despite being ranked fourth in his high school class. Even while he was still playing at the University of California, opinions on Brown were divided throughout the country.

Coming into the NBA Draft, these were Jaylen’s rankings:

Sports Illustrated — 10th — “At least Gerald Green came in with a wet jump shot.”

Bleacher Report — 7th — “On one hand, Jaylen Brown packs upside. On the other, it doesn’t mean anything unless he makes major improvements over the next few years.”

CBS Sports — 7th — “Makes poor decisions fairly regularly with the ball. Some teams are also turned off by his intelligence, which is crazy yet accurate.”

Kevin Pelton Draft Model — 39th — Yes, 39th. Pelton’s draft model only uses analytical data where the system placed Brown as the 39th ranked prospect. The model also showed Brown was ranked 101st of draft eligible players in wins above replacement (WARP).

The analytic vs. eye-test argument with Jaylen is well-seasoned, but when you watch the kid play basketball, he just pops off the screen. That has to be worth something, right?

You go back to Jaylen’s time in college and look at the problems — no handle, struggled shooting from deep, free throws, couldn’t create for others, one and done in the tournament, etc. — but that was never an issue to me.

When I watched Jaylen, he simply bounced around my TV. He was a ridiculous athlete, flew around the court like a gazelle, barreled his way to the rim, tried to put the entire PAC-12 on a poster, defended his ass off, possessed an incredible work ethic. Jaylen was a grown man — at the age of 18 — playing in the NCAA.

Brown’s draft positioning was so polarizing that he actually received an arena filled with displease once Boston’s owner, Wyc Grousbeck, announced the selection.

Brown was quick to show flashes last season. He was the best athlete on the team, thrived in transition, had strong defensive stretches, but was never consistent enough on either end to carve out a meaningful role for the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

Those who ignored Brown throughout the season, rolled their eyes at his 6.6 PPG with 2.8 RPG anytime a Boston fan was promoting him. Yet those who watched, saw that when he was given the opportunity, Brown usually took advantage.

However, many of Jaylen’s struggles did roll over to his rookie season in the NBA. He was tentative, scared to dribble at times, went through shooting slumps, turned the ball over, fouled a ton, etc. These struggles, of course, were the biggest reason he couldn’t stay on the court.

With no added motivation, he stayed hungry and tried to counter as many of his weaknesses as he could this summer.

It seemed like Brown was often forgot about when discussing the Celtics roster after getting Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Jayson Tatum.

But once Summer League started, and Jaylen Brown led it off with a scorching 29 points and 13 boards, the buzz began to pick up. Even if it was “just summer league”, Brown was clearly a different player. His confidence was as high as a mountain, and he was cruising around the court the way he did at Cal.

Brown has transitioned from Summer League to preseason to the regular season without losing a step. It’s expected his current level of 21.5 points per game will fall back somewhere between 16-18, but without Hayward are we sure he can’t keep up the production?

My favorite thing I’ve seen from Brown’s first two games has been his aggressiveness. He had no fear in Cleveland or Milwaukee’s defense and slashed at will, as well as having zero hesitancy in his jump shot. He has refined his shooting and ball handling so much already that his athleticism and speed have really made the game look smooth and easy, thus far. With a raised level of confidence, Brown is coming, and the league better take notice.

Many were hoping Brown would take a leap this season, but I don’t think anybody envisioned what we’ve seen from him through the first two games.

With Hayward out, many believe the goals of the Celtics have changed and they can no longer compete for one of the top playoff seeds. I severely disagree. Honestly, this situation will help the Celtics in the long-term. Without Hayward, Brown is arguably the Celtics second best player right now. They’ll need to lean on him during large stretches of the season, both offensive and defensively to win games.

Without Hayward, they’re forced to play and develop their young talent, which severely increase their odds of raising the roster’s ability for next season while they await Gordon’s return.

While we all wait, the TD Garden might just be a showcase for the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

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