Jaylen Brown hasn’t been the same in recent weeks, at least not on the basketball court. After sustaining an injury against the Atlanta Hawks at the start of the month, Brown struggled to impact matches at a high level.
Prior to Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Brown has been in five games since returning from a sprained ankle. Putting in 19.6 points per game in this five-game period makes it easy to overlook the 25-year-old’s suffering, but the splits in shooting don’t lie. Brown was hitting only 24.3% of his perimeter attempts, despite raising 7.4 three times per night, while his field goal percentage was 40.2% on 18 attempts per night.
Here’s the thing: When Brown is at his best, it often seems like nothing is beyond his capabilities, but when he’s struggling, the holes in his game are more transparent. Turns, a tendency to slip into trouble, and slow decision-making are all fair criticisms of the Celtics star wing, but they only show when shots don’t fall, because that’s when Brown overplays his hand.
I have always been a proponent of simplifying Brown’s responsibilities in court and putting him in the best position to thrive. We see Jayson Tatum thriving as a ball player, playmaker and shot builder and we want to see Brown reach those heights as well. But this isn’t a California producer’s game, and expecting him to turn into something isn’t a recipe for disappointment.
I’m still working my way through last night’s game. But Jaylen Brown serving as the first quarter stage finisher is exactly what I’ve been vocal about this year. It’s unstoppable when he embraces this role
Adam Taylor (AdamTaylorNBA) March 19, 2022
We’ve all seen Brown show glimpses of creativity from his dribbling, and there’s definitely a world in which he develops this aspect of his game to an above-average level, but that’s where he’s going to thrive now.
That’s why the role Udoka used for Brown Against the Kings (End Play) is so encouraging – because it’s one that transforms his gaming influence and tends to elite sport and has the Atlanta native at his disposal.
Defining Brown as a theatrical ending
Everyone has their own terminology, which makes sense for how the game is broken down into pieces, and to me, a finisher is someone who runs off the ball and is tasked with cutting or spotting, then ending play with a sport or knockout shot.
The play was explained above to break up the team’s action, but in addition to the actual group played, the end product was Brown receiving a pass near the edge and getting an easy finish. The tune was set early, helped shed the cobwebs of Brown’s last shot, and what followed was a masterful game of play ending all three levels.
When you have an oscillator with high level changes in speed and direction, allowing it to work at the welds is essential. Back cut, 45 cuts, baseline flashes – getting the ball to knockout at his favorite points is a fast-paced attacking route to fast-paced and easy buckets.
Brown had a 16-point lead early in the first quarter, like the two games mentioned above, as the Celtics took advantage of the Kings’ porous defense and appeared to operate with a mentality of shock and awe.
Udoka likes for his team to build their momentum by rim compression and internal scoring, then feeding their momentum from the periphery. With such an emphasis on playing from the inside out, it makes perfect sense to position your best altar as a spearhead for off-ball moves and combos, but also to mix things up and have him swing on the wings when the defense is in rotation.
Off-Ball Jaylen is the perfect complement to this version of Tatum
With better ball handling and facilitation, the concept of mixing his game with Brown has become more and more murky, which is probably part of the reason why so many people envision trading one of them to solve the Celtics’ early season struggles.
However, turning Brown into more than one off-ball role is the perfect frustration for Tatum’s new hybrid point-scoring role, and allows both team stars to complement each other’s games on a nightly basis.
While Brown may see himself as a ball player or a minor builder for this team, the hard truth is that for now, it’s his ultimate and physical traits that make him such an integral part of the Celtics system, so he may need to sacrifice some of the lesser aspects of his career. He played for the team.
The more teams double the Tatum, the more Brown thrives off the ball, especially as a stripper. But this is also where the six-year-old winger can get his fair share of creation responsibilities so he doesn’t feel sidelined within the offensive scheme. Everything makes sense on paper.
Five games is an incredibly small sample to judge a player’s ability. We’ll never write off a new addition to the team after just five competitions, but when one of your star players struggles, those five games can feel like five months. And that’s how I felt when watching Brown struggle during the early weeks of March, it was hard to watch and hard to analyze.
However, after a stellar performance against the Kings, we can now begin to look forward to the remainder of the road trip on the West Coast, knowing that the Celtics can count on both of their star players when the going gets tough. It might have been hard to watch for a few nights, but Brown’s suffering was the growing pain necessary for him to rediscover his high-profile play.
If Odoka continues to provide Brown with a role that fits his core attributes and allows him to influence the win, the elite winger duo will be reborn in Boston, but only this time there will be no doubt as to whether or not those two are. Players can play together. Instead, we’ll wonder why it took so long to find out.