The path to stardom was an unusual one for Jaylen Brown. Playing in his eighth NBA season, Brown has seen himself go from an untrusted young bench contributor, scraping to get minutes in the playoffs, to an All-NBA level player on a team looking to make it back to the NBA Finals.
The Boston Celtics gave Brown a staggering $300 million contract extension in early July. The sum (structured and necessitated by Brown’s previously mentioned All-NBA selection) stuck out to many. It wasn’t just critics of Brown’s game that looked at the monetary commitment and scratched their heads. A few, including myself, looked at the extension as a potential poison pill to a roster that had shown flexibility with its cap sheet. Portioning off nearly 25% of the cap to a player of Brown’s caliber was a tough call to make, but Brad Stevens made it.
As the Celtics moved through the offseason and added Kristaps Porzingis, along with Jrue Holiday, it seemed Brown’s role was going to have less responsibility attached to it. Some projections had Brown as the fourth or fifth scoring option on any night. Repeatedly over recent seasons, it looked as though Brown wasn’t processing the game in critical moments. Opponents noticed and attacked his weaknesses. However, this year, nearing the quarter mark of the season, with the Celtics racing towards another deep playoff run, it might be Jaylen Brown who holds the key to unlocking the Celtics’ success.
Where Brown has shown flashes of improved playmaking is with his new teammate, Kristaps Porzingis. The two have been building chemistry on and off the court, as the duo reportedly live in the same apartment building in Boston. Whatever the reason, the chemistry is showing, as Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com pointed out, that over 30% of Brown’s assists have been to Porzingis.
Why that is important, beyond Brown developing into more of a playmaker, is that the Celtics needed diversification from their offense. To start the year, the Celtics’ core six players met to discuss what sort of sacrifices would be needed to succeed. Each acknowledged that they will have to be selfless for things to flourish. Quickly on their way to their 14-4 start, the Celtics realized they don’t have so much of a pecking order as they do a best-options list due to the unicorn ability of Porzingis (1.56 points per possession on post-ups this season). Add in the play of Derrick White (.630 true shooting percentage), and a balanced offense picture becomes clear.
Marked this play down in my notes last night. I think it shows Jaylen Brown's improved playmaking but also his willingness to change his style. Just last year he probably would have tried to finish this. pic.twitter.com/Puf47NPUa0
— Matt Strout (@TheRealStrout) November 27, 2023
Telling basketball players to tame themselves, especially when that’s how they have played and succeeded in the league before, is a hard thing to do. Brown is not necessarily asking to be tamed but to alter his play style and, most importantly, pick his spots more effectively.
Working On Bad Habits
One of the reasons it was hard to justify Brown receiving such a lucrative extension is that he doesn’t have an elite skill to point to. Brown is a terrific scorer who can heat up and drop 40 points on a given night. On the other end of the floor, he’s a big, athletic defender who anticipates well. Scoring 26 points per game and securing All-Star selections is rightfully deserved, but often, Brown has left those watching wanting more.
An area where Brown has enough of a pedigree to be considered elite would be his transition offense. Due to his size and speed, Brown can outmatch almost anyone when he gets the ball off a steal or with an outlet pass. Rarely is he impeded, so much so that he regularly can finish through contact. So far this season, he is tied for second in the league in points scored in transition, according to data via NBA.com. In addition, Brown finished in the top 10 in the same category in each of the last two seasons.
Brown can find his niche, and perhaps his elite skill is as a transition playmaker. Although the former number-three overall pick is near the top of the league in transition scoring, his efficiency has fluctuated. Currently in the 44th percentile, Brown suffers from “tunnel vision” when he drives to the basket. The lack of vision, in a sense, led to a 20% turnover rate in transition during the playoffs. With teams clawing at the ball and increasing the likelihood of a turnover, having better composure will lead to more opportunities to dish and score. Combining the finishing he already has with an added focus on keeping his head up, Brown could be an unstoppable force with the basketball.
The Contract Discussion
Jaylen Brown was crowned with “Richest NBA Contract Ever,” which distorted his entire perception. His standing in the league’s hierarchy of best players hasn’t fluctuated. Routinely, Brown is placed anywhere in the top 20-30 best players in the entire association. That doesn’t matter to folks if their contract values don’t fit the mold of the meritocracy. The best player should be the highest paid, and so on down the roster. Of course, this ignores contract rules, service time, inflation, and, above all, vacant of any context.
The contract is not the worst in the league. Not even close. Look at current deals signed by other two-guards and analyze the return on investment from those players; Brown’s body of work stacks up better. In three years, it might even look better than a lot of other contracts that have yet to be signed. A $300 million contract now could be dwarfed before the end of this season. At 27, entering his prime, Brown still has a lot of room left in his game. As I wrote back in July when the signing was announced, it’s a risky bet, too. However, he’s gotten better every year, which should entice fans more than worry them.
Matt Strout is an Editor for Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96.