Jaylen Brown’s offensive evolution leads to career night

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Boston Celtics
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Brown exploded offensively and displayed he has come a long way.

When Jaylen Brown entered the NBA, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft wasn’t exactly revered for his shooting ability.

A talented wing player, Brown initially relied on his terrific athleticism. He went to work though to add pieces to his repertoire each season, first consistently knocking down corner 3-pointers before moving out all around the arc.

He learned how to control his body on aggressive drives to the hoop and picked up a smooth-looking mid-range jumper that seemed to reveal itself more in the bubble over the summer.

While Brown elevated himself to a near All-Star level a season ago, he hasn’t sat back on the tools he acquired, expanding his game as he has done this year, serving as a primary ball handler for the Celtics, who have the utmost trust with the ball in Brown’s hands.

For the 24-year-old Brown now in his fifth year in the league, everything he has put into his offensive game culminated in a career performance in Wednesday’s 126-107 runaway win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Brown torched the Grizzlies with an array of shots and moves that didn’t seem conceivable when he first put on the Celtics uniform as he poured in a career-high 42 points on a remarkably efficient 15-of-21 shooting, including draining seven 3-pointers, and did all his damage in just the first three quarters.

“I think everything has been something I’ve been working on, just being a basketball player,” Brown said. “Obviously, opportunities and stuff change from year to year and every year I looked at it as a new challenge to just get better. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you (what I’m most improved at). Everything I feel like I’ve gotten better at.”

While Brown’s skillset has evolved and transformed him into an all-around force on the offensive end, it was his much-improved shooting stroke that elevated him into a higher stratosphere versus Memphis.

Brown sank his first six 3-pointers — he finished the contest shooting 7-of-10 from beyond the arc — in a variety of ways. He pulled up into a trey over Dillon Brooks, canned a triple with Jonas Valanciunas right in his face and knocked down a few off catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Brown only converted 29.4 percent of 3-pointers in his only season at Cal, a rate that hasn’t followed him to the NBA as he has shot at least 34 percent from deep in each season and hovered just below 40 percent last year.

“I always thought I could shoot the ball,” Brown said. “I never doubted myself. In college, I probably didn’t shoot the ball as good. I only had one year basically of college and everybody just jumped the gun. I feel like I’ve always been able to shoot the ball and I never let myself lose confidence.”

It didn’t take long for Brown’s teammates to notice the type of zone he was in. Brown netted 26 points by halftime, just eight points shy of his previously career-high of 34, which he achieved on Dec. 27 of last year against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And while Jayson Tatum and others looked to get the ball back in Brown’s hands to reach a new career milestone, they all could attest to the enormous strides they have witnessed Brown make on the floor.

“It’s amazing,” Tatum said. “Super happy for him. Big night. He was on fire. When a guy is hitting like that, you just got to keep feeding him.”

Brown continued to stay scorching hot in the second half, hitting tough buckets at the rim and draining contested jumpers in the face of Memphis defenders.

Brown was in such a groove, and the Celtics were in cruise control pushing their lead to 30, that Brown was at first not aware that he was closing in on a personal-best performance late in the third quarter.

But once Brad Stevens subbed Brown out with less than three minutes to go in the stanza, he quickly heard from his teammates that he was on the precipice of an achievement. Brown then took matters into his own hands.

“I gave Brad a little wink and I was like, ‘Can I get two more minutes?’ and he let me go back out there,” Brown said. “With that type of responsibility that Brad gave me, I wanted to make sure that I still played basketball the right way. It just happened to fall.”

Brown spent just 39 seconds on the bench before getting back into the game and quickly went to work, eclipsing his previous career scoring mark with two free throws with 1:22 left in the quarter.

Brown ended the quarter how he started the game by going on one final tear. He netted eight points in just over a minute to bring a 40-piece into view and eventually surpass it.

“Finishing has improved so much since college,” Stevens said. “His shooting was probably not as highly thought of as it should have been coming out in the draft, but certainly has gotten a lot better and just his reads and everything else. He just really improved.”

As Brown continues to push his ceiling higher, he has shouldered more responsibility. This season, with Kemba Walker nursing a knee injury and Gordon Hayward getting out of town to join the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason, Brown has taken on more ball-handling duties and orchestrated pick-and-rolls.

Brown has seen his usage percentage increase to 29.6 percent, up from 24.5 from a season ago. It’s just another sign of Brown adding more to his game and continuing to evolve.

“He’s got a lot on his plate,” Stevens said. “He wants to have a lot on his plate.”