When the Boston Celtics selected Jaylen Brown 3rd overall in the 2016 NBA draft, fans were a little skeptical.
When the Boston Celtics selected Jaylen Brown third overall in the draft, a slight sense of resentment seemed to permeate throughout the fan base.
It wasn’t necessarily connected to anything Brown had done, but with the lack of the fireworks that Celtics fans had been expecting come draft night.
Since acquiring a treasure trove of picks from the Brooklyn Nets, insiders and fans alike have been certain that it was only a matter of time before Danny Ainge turned those assets into a superstar, or at least a player with star potential. It would seem that the Celtics have been linked to almost every big name player at some point over the past few years, and those rumors came to a fever pitch on draft night.
There were talks that the Philadelphia 76ers had offered Nerlens Noel (linked to the Celtics since he was drafted), the 24th pick, and the 26th pick for the 3rd overall selection. A few reputable sources even said that the Celtics and Chicago Bulls were in advanced talks on a deal that would send Jimmy Butler to Boston, and all the Celtics needed to do was draft Kris Dunn. But, nothing ever materialized and the Celtics left draft night no closer to the 18th banner that they covet so much.
Given those circumstances, Brown would have to do a little more than usual to endear himself to the passionate Boston crowd. If his summer league performance is any indication, he’s well ahead of himself in that department, both on and off the court.
In one of his first interviews after being drafted, Brown declared that he was “ready to rip someone’s head off,” and he did his best to make good on that promise in his first summer league game.
He didn’t convert the attempt, but the play gave Celtics fans some insight into the intensity Brown plays with and the athleticism he possesses.
His aggressiveness also increased every time he stepped on the court, and the more he played, the easier it was to tell why Boston drafted him.
Brown stands 6’7, but his 7’0 wingspan and his strong body allows him to defend bigger players as well as he does wings. That type of defensive versatility is becoming invaluable in the NBA, and a player with Brown’s combination of strength, length, quick feet, and motor should be able to defend three or four positions in the NBA someday, if not right away.
He spent the summer guarding just about every position at one point or another, and he found some level of success no matter the situation.
Against Phoenix, he was matched up against fellow rookie Marquese Chriss, where Brown was able to use his superior strength to keep the taller Chriss from gaining post position:
A couple possessions later, Brown found himself switched onto second-year player Devin Booker, and he wasn’t giving an inch on the perimeter either, sliding with Booker step for step before sending his shot into the stands:
Brown was a highlight machine on defense during the summer, racking up blocks and steals. While steal and block totals can be misleading, for Brown they were often the end result of a good defensive possession:
Brown absolutely gets after it on this play against the Cavaliers, giving all-out effort to get the steal and dunk. His defensive numbers at Cal were curiously low for a player of Brown’s caliber, but if he gives effort like this come the regular season, that shouldn’t be an issue.
More impressive than the steals and blocks, however, was how comfortable the rookie looked when switching multiple actions:
Brown is able to seamlessly switch twice on this play, and ends it by giving a good contest to force the miss. The Celtics as a team employ a lot of switching, so plays like this must be encouraging to the coaching staff when evaluating how Brown is going to fit in on defense.
Another area Brown excelled in that wasn’t necessarily seen as a strength in college was rebounding. He averaged 6.2 boards over five games, and even though that number may not jump off the page, his ability and willingness to fight for the rebound down low was nice to see.
When Jaylen rebounds the ball it gives him the opportunity to turn into a playmaker in transition as well:
The ability to get out in transition will be huge for Brown early on in his career, as he currently lacks polish creating in the half court. On the fast break he has the potential to be both a lethal finisher and good passer.
Even when the game slows down, Brown still has the tools be a highly effective player. He’s quick and springy, and even though he isn’t the most advanced ball handler, he is able to create space when he goes to his crossover or step-back:
He also mixes in a nice spin move at times:
And, despite his lack of shooting ability, Brown is able to combine a nice pump fake with his terrific first step to help get himself into the paint:
Right now, though, his best attribute on offense is his ability to draw fouls. In his six summer league games, Brown got to the free throw line 61 times, converting 70.5% of his attempts there. That percentage isn’t anything to write home about, but the Celtics will take any extra trips to the line they can get.
Brown has all the makings of a star offensive talent, but he has a long way to go before reaching that level. He showed a knack for getting into the paint, but a lot of times it was without a plan. He struggled to finish around the rim, sometimes even failing to hit the rim:
He also struggled with holding onto the ball at times, and his loose handle was another concern coming out of college.
For rookies, summer league usually ends up being an affirmation of their current strengths and weaknesses. In Brown’s case, that rang true almost to a tee, although there were some new things discovered about his game (his overall intensity and playmaking were probably a bit understated going into the draft). He still has a lot of kinks to iron out, and, luckily for him, his team’s success in the short term won’t hinder on him developing into a star ahead of schedule.
But, fairly or not, Brown will always be linked to the trades that could’ve been. It doesn’t have to be now, but at some point, he will have to become the sort of player that makes Celtics fans forget about what they may have been able to get on that draft night in 2016.