Jaylen Brown’s emergence might surprise some. To those who have tracked his career, however, it’s a breakout that’s been on its way.
In helping his Boston Celtics to a 126-107 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night, Jaylen Brown went for a career-high 42 points along with five rebounds and four assists. He shot 15-of-21 from the field, 7-for-10 beyond the arc, and 5-of-6 at the free throw line. Oh, and he did all that in less than 29 minutes without a single second of fourth-quarter action.
Though Brown has blossomed into a consistent 20-point per game scorer in the last year, he’s rarely put forth the volume to reach any higher, which helps to explain the magnitude of his latest performance. Only eight times in his career has he attempted more than 20 shots. It’s why Brown has only scored 30+ 10 times in over 200 games, never once crossing the 40-point mark.
“I came out with a couple of minutes to go in the third quarter,” Brown said after the game. “All the guys were saying, ‘you’re right at your career-high’. So, I gave Brad a little wink to say, ‘can I get a couple more minutes?’ I owed it to him to play hard then.”
Jaylen Brown lord have mercy pic.twitter.com/U7jA9MMs3t
— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) December 31, 2020
That lack of precedence can make you feel like this outing came out of nowhere, almost like it’s an outlier considering how little evidence Brown gave us to believe such was possible. The same could be said of the start to the season that has him pacing Boston in scoring by more than four points a night.
Follow the trail that is his career arc, however, and you realize that Brown’s current level of play, highlighted by this incredible scoring output, is right on schedule.
Brown arrived in Boston in 2016 and spent his first three seasons just trying to fit in. First, it was Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, then Kyrie Irving and eventually Gordon Hayward folded into the mix along with a plethora of notable names that wound up imploding the Celtics in 2019.
He might not have gotten the chance to compete for Rookie of the Year or fill up many box scores to start. Instead, Brown was kept out of the harsh spotlight most #3 picks face, allowing him to hone his skills in relative obscurity while getting an early taste of high-stakes basketball with the chances Brad Stevens afforded him.
When those opportunities unexpectedly grew in the 2018 playoffs after Kyrie and Hayward went down, Brown didn’t hesitate to step in and thrive, leading the Celtics in scoring through the Eastern Conference Finals. The weeks-long showing was a taste of what was possible and what was likely coming down Boston’s pipe in due time.
When the dust cleared on what remains an unexplainable 2018-19 season, Brown found himself a significant beneficiary. Kemba Walker had replaced Kyrie and Jayson Tatum was expected to make a leap of his own, but Brown followed right behind in the pecking order with a role as sizeable as it was clear.
He was now a significant cog in Boston’s offense. If the layout of the roster didn’t prove as much, a 4-year, $107 million extension showed just how much the Celtics believed Brown could contribute to their plans.
Years spent complimenting others while seasoning his game along the way wound up priming Brown well. He cracked 20 points a night with career-highs across the board. Whereas he had so often relied on others to create his offense, Brown was doing it all by himself to form a legitimate offensive trio.
It’s so easy to forget because of how advanced he already looks, but Brown only turned 24 this past October. Most players his age still have plenty of room to grow and Jaylen is no exception.
He sharpened his handles last season to get where he wanted to go. They can always be tightened to breakdown better defenders and slither through tighter spaces. More touches meant more playmaking responsibilities. Brown improved there as well, but he must continuously prepare himself for the frantic defenses his growing talent will throw at him and make the passes that best capitalize. He was efficient as he ever was inside the arc, but efficiency knows no limit.
“I think it’s kind of hard to point out,” Brown said after the Memphis win when asked what he thinks he’s most improved on. “I think everything is something I’ve been working on. Every year is a new challenge to get better. Everything is what I think I’ve gotten better at.”
The absence of Walker and departure of Hayward left a hole in Boston’s offense that had to be filled to remain afloat in the Eastern Conference. As someone who so easily handled added offensive responsibilities last season, Brown was a logical choice to take on even more.
“He’s got a lot on his plate,” Stevens said of Brown. “He wants to have a lot on his plate.”
Over 70 percent of his baskets were assisted on as a rookie. That number dropped to 60 percent last season. We’re now looking at a roughly 51/48 split between assisted and unassisted field goals.
More volume almost always equates to more production. That Brown has continued that trend with consistent efficiency — his true-shooting percentage has increased from Year 3 on — is a bonus that has him confidently pulling up for shots like this.
“He’s become a better shooter each and every year,” Tatum said of his teammate. “His confidence continues to grow. He’s going to continue to get better.”
Brown’s numbers are currently up to career-highs of 28.0 points on 56.3 percent shooting with 3.4 assists per game to start the new season. He became just the second Celtic in the last four decades to drop 40 points in less than 30 minutes, joining Larry Bird.
If you’re stuck trying to figure out where this hot start and even hotter performance came from for a player yet to make an All-Star appearance, it doesn’t take much to realize that his career has been building straight towards it.