The Passing Evolution of Jaylen Brown

By Geoffrey Campbell

Jaylen Brown personifies the phrase ‘more than an athlete.’ Since entering the NBA in 2016, Brown has been a role model for other young professionals regardless of occupation, whether he was speaking out about negative stereotypes often associated with athletes who don’t just “stick to sports” in 2018, or more recently, organizing a protest in his hometown of Atlanta after the murder of George Floyd. 

While there is no question that his activism off the court will have a longer and more meaningful impact, in the present, Brown’s on-court development, particularly in areas outside of scoring, is having a huge impact on his team’s postseason success. 

Prior to the beginning of the 2019–2020 season, Brown signed a four-year, $115 million extension, making him the first Celtic to be extended on their rookie deal since Rajon Rondo. The C’s committed to Brown after a season in which he averaged a career-low in three-point percentage and scored fewer points per game compared with his previous season. At the time, I could not see the Celtics, a team that had the majority of their current and future salary cap tied to Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown, while still needing to pay Jayson Tatum, contending for a title. Then again, I suppose that is why I don’t run a professional basketball team, and it’s also why most friends avoid my betting advice like a New York City subway car in August.

But the Celtics did bet on Brown, and he has certainly rewarded them. This year, Brown finished the regular season averaging just over 20 points per game while shooting a career-high 48 percent from the field, and grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game. Yet it’s been Brown’s development as a facilitator that has piqued this writer’s interest. Meanwhile, Brown’s assist percentage has jumped from his previous playoff career-high of 9.5% in 2016-2017 to 12.3% this postseason. After taking a closer look at Brown’s film (both postseason and regular season), it’s easy to see the strides he’s made as a passer, and where he still needs to improve.

The Celtics as a team are shooting over 65 percent this postseason on shots within zero to three feet of the basket, and Brown’s emerging skills as a playmaker is one of the primary reasons for it. The first of the following two clips features Brown driving baseline, drawing in the defense, and finding a cutting Robert Williams for the easy flush. The second shows Brown’s growth as a passer: the fourth-year man out of Cal looks for the lob, sees that it’s not there, and instead threads a pass inside to Daniel Theis, who finishes the two-handed slam to extend the Celtics’ lead.

Brown’s vision and ability to find the open man extends to plays in transition as well. Here, Brown throws an outlet pass to Kemba Walker for a difficult lay-in. The second-clip is the type of *chef’s kiss* found in the kitchen at a steakhouse like Peter Luger’s: Brown rifles a picture-perfect bounce pass through four Raptors defenders, hitting Gordon Hayward in stride for the easy two. 

Since the playoffs started, the Celtics have increased both their number of three-point attempts per game and three-point percentage from their regular season averages: Through six games, the C’s are putting up 36.2 threes a game and hitting 37.3 percent of them, up from 34.5 attempts per game on 36.4 percent respectively. Once again, Brown’s ability to break his man off the dribble and find teammates, whether in the corner or with cross-court passes, has been on full display.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that Brown is still young and has plenty of room to grow. The 23-year old averaged could definitely improve his understanding of the nuances of halfcourt reads, specifically with lob passes. In the first clip, Brown throws the ball a little too far in front of Theis  (granted, there was some pretty nice help defense from Joe Harris). In the second clip, Brown has all the time in the world to set up Theis for a wide-open dunk. Once again, either Brown is looking for the lob and Theis isn’t ready for it, or Brown just airmails the pass. 

Brown has more than justified the Celtics’ decision to extend him prior to this season. It’s still jarring to think that there were teams who felt Brown was ‘too smart’ coming out of college, but Celtics fans can sit back knowing that Jayson Tatum (most likely) and Jaylen Brown will be lighting up the TD Garden for the foreseeable future. Now, if Brown can further refine his talent as a secondary creator and limit his turnovers, we could be looking at a wing tandem worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

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