Jaylen Brown's Defense and the TPA Chart Trend

Jaylen Brown has been vital to the Celtics league-leading defense. The trend of TPA charts everywhere has made him out to look worse than he is, so let's talk about it.

Boston Celtics forward-turned-shooting-guard Jaylen Brown has struggled to score in recent games after a hot start. His per-game averages are still satisfactory, but his 10-for-35 shooting over a recent three-game span has me scratching my head. Brown plays his best ball going downhill, but his recent struggles have him missing mostly uncontested dunks, and that’s if he doesn’t lose the ball on the way to the bucket. I hate to nitpick to this degree, but he’s even dropping passes around the perimeter. Yet, the Celtics are generally much better with him on the floor. It’s an interesting case of the eye test not agreeing with stats.

Here’s what the Celtics TPA (Total Points Added) chart looked like after 13 games, via @NBA_Math:

The TPA model, according to their website, basically a visual representation of a what a player adds on each end of the court per-100 possessions. Brown’s placement on the chart is statistically accurate but could be visually misleading. There are a couple simple, yet important factors that often get buried when we look at stats, and I think they’re important in evaluating Brown’s production as a player.

1) Team defense compared to individual defense. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the individual defense is represented very well by stats. The Celtics switch-everything defense has benefitted some players much more than others on paper, as Daniel Theis racks up blocks and Kyrie Irving accumulates steals. What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is that the Celtics defense will often starve the offense of rhythm, resulting in a forced shot from whoever happens to have the ball at the end of the shot clock. The result is graphs like the one above contrasting with Jaylen Brown’s seventh-best overall defensive rating (as of November 12th, via basketball-reference). The six players ahead of him are either one of his teammates or Andre Drummond. Here’s another way to look at it. Jaylen Brown is statistically lagging behind his teammates on both offense and defense, as seen by the TPA chart. In light of the recent injuries, we become anxious to know if Brown is capable of being the focal point of the Celtics yet, and charts like this one might make him look unprepared. However, comparing Brown to the league as a whole shows that he’s leaps and bounds better than most players at his position defensively, and will be well above average offensively if he decides to start hitting his layups. According to NBAsavant.com’s shot charts, Brown is shooting 9% below the league average in the paint, and one would think that layups would be the easiest play to master. We’ll have to see if he can re-learn it.

The TPA charts are fun, though, don’t get me wrong. I’m totally in favor of any visual aid that makes Jayson Tatum look like an all-star, but part of the issue I take with the invasion of advanced stats in sports discussion is how they can block out on-court, right-in-front-of-your-eyes information that would be foolish to ignore. In this case, we’re getting tunnel vision on how players compare to their teammates when the more relevant comparison is how they compare to the competition. That’s all.

2) Brown is the team leader in minutes played. This point goes without saying, but lapses in scoring while playing big minutes lead to wonky stats, especially with small sample sizes. All I’m saying is I don’t think Brown gets enough credit for being a net positive on the floor every single game while playing more than 30 minutes during his sophomore season.

I don’t mean to write a hit piece on the wonderful NBA math website - you should absolutely check them out if you haven’t. I’ve just been seeing these graphs everywhere and I couldn’t help but say something. Hey, I like pictures too, but sometimes they get taken too far out of context. Stats are great. Watching basketball games is best. Rant over.

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