The Boston Celtics are having a very successful 2017 campaign, currently tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the East’s top spot. And with +600 odds of winning the Eastern Conference right now, they’re a betting bargain.
When it comes to acknowledgements for Boston’s success, All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas (29.2 PPG), center Al Horford (14.0 PPG), and forward Jae Crowder (13.9 PPG) are often given much praise. Avery Bradley (16.4 PPG), Marcus Smart (10.6 PPG), and Kelly Olynyk (9.0 PPG) have also provided significant contributions.
But when it comes to the 2017 NBA Playoffs, rookie Jaylen Brown could be their secret weapon. Let’s discuss why below along with how Brown has improved greatly as the season has progressed.
Pushing through the Rookie Wall
Much has been made about what the Boston Celtics will do with the treasure trove of draft picks that they possess (via Brooklyn Nets). Last June, they used the No. 3 overall pick on Brown, rather than trading it away.
Few expected the then-teenager to provide immediate contributions because he was considered an offensive project and athlete. Furthermore, he only had 34 games at Cal to prep for joining an upper-tier NBA team.
Averaging over 17 minutes per game and appearing in 76 contests, Brown has had his ups and downs this season. But he’s powered through and is now set to play a significant role during the playoffs.
“I’ve hit that rookie wall a few times but it’s all mental,” Brown explained. “I’ve got to be locked in everyday and be prepared to help this team… Scoring the ball, guarding different positions, I’m ready to do whatever is needed of me.”
Considering how versatile of a defender Brown is, he gives the Celtics somebody who can defend multiple positions, and play excellent pick-and-roll defense.
Standout in the 2016 Draft Class
When compared to the 2016 draft class, Brown has justified his lofty selection. After all, No. 1 pick Ben Simmons hasn’t even appeared in a game for the Philadelphia 76ers. The other top-5 players are on teams with a combined .332 winning percentage, including Minnesota (Kris Dunn), Phoenix (Dragan Bender), and Los Angeles (Brandon Ingram).
Phoenix guard Devin Booker acknowledged this after scoring 70 points against the Celtics. “I told [Brown] he’s here in Boston,” said Booker. “You’re winning, so you should be more happy than me.”
Boston has indeed done very well, winning 50 games for the first time since 2011 – back when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen led the team. Interestingly enough, it was the Brooklyn deal for Pierce and Garnett that resulted in the draft pick that brought Brown here.
From Struggling Rookie to Important Contributor
The rookie had a limited role to start the season, which is no surprise with veterans Crowder and Gerald Green manning the small forward position. When he did see minutes, it wasn’t great since the team only averaged 98 points per 100 possessions (would rank last in NBA) with Brown on the floor.
Nobody questioned Brown’s defensive effort, nor his ability to get to the rim. It’s the latter that helped him average 14.6 points at Cal. But the big limitation has remained Brown’s ability to consistently knock down open jumpers. He shot 29.4% from three-point range in college, and only shot slightly better than this at 30.4% during his first four months of the NBA season.
But there are signs that Brown has improved rapidly over the last few weeks. He shot 45.5% from beyond the arc in March, and the team’s offensive rating was 111.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor – 13 points better than before the All-Star break. Currently, Brown is shooting 34.6% from outside, which is right around the league average.
“Jaylen keeps growing every game,” said coach Brad Stevens. “Where we really want to see growth from him is defensively. He’s a long guy who can do a lot for us, but we want to see him consistently give us quality minutes of the defensive end heading into the playoffs.”
A Turning Point
The point where Brown really started turning things around came in a late February contest with Detroit. The Pistons were trailing 98-96 with 30 seconds remaining, with Boston needing a big basket to hold off the challengers. Horford drove in, drew the defense, then kicked the ball out to Brown for a three-pointer. The rookie not only nailed the shot, but got fouled and made the free throw to put the game away.
“My shooting has always been something people critiqued me on,” Brown stated. “But ever since coming [to Boston] people told me to keep shooting and keep my confidence up. I’ve been shooting it a lot better of late, so I hope to keep that going the rest of the year.”
Moving into the Playoffs
Over the past few years, Boston has been satisfied making the playoffs. But they want more than just a first-round exit this season, given that they signed Horford and drafted Brown in the offseason. And Brown will no doubt play a role in helping the Celtics make a deep playoff run.
“Jaylen’s been able to fill in for us pretty much every night,” said Smart. “He adds another body for us and he’s a unique guy. We can play him anywhere on the floor and expect him to give us good minutes.”
As it stands now, Boston would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round. And they’ll hold home-court advantage until at least the Eastern Conference Finals if they keep winning. Of course, with the last two years featuring first-round postseason exits, nothing will be guaranteed for this team, even with home court.
Brown has entered the 8-player rotation that’s expected to propel this Celtics team to its biggest heights since the turn of the decade.
It seems that he’s more up to the task than ever before since he’s averaging 9.4 PPG over the past six contests. Assuming Brown can keep putting up this kind of offensive production, it’ll make him a huge asset when combined with his athleticism and defense.