Explaining the Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown Paradox

In a town that has always seen a superstar in Jayson Tatum, the vision got blurry when looking at Jaylen Brown.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics
Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

The Boston Celtics are supposed to have two franchise cornerstones. Jayson Tatum has blossomed into an undeniable superstar that has catapulted to the top of the Boston sports mountain. As for Jaylen Brown, an All-NBA selection just seven months ago, has never received that same level of buy-in from the Celtic fans or the organization.

It's a fascinating dichotomy between sectors of a fanbase that have failed to find a middle ground when analyzing Brown's talents. In this case, it's not as easy as the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It's a pendulum that can favor either extreme depending on stretches of the season. But in the last few weeks, Brown has undergone a transformation of his game. He's finding his niche, and it's revived his spark while potentially elevating the Celtic's ceiling. But is this a short-term trend or a long-term permutation?

The continuous reservation you hear about Jaylen Brown is his handle or lack thereof. It's been a point of contention since coming out of Cal in 2016. Most major draft sites rated Brown highly, as though he was a raw prospect; he had undeniable intelligence, size, and athleticism that could translate well to the pro game. Yet, all paused for concern about Jaylen's ability to create space off the dribble and his tendency to lose the ball. It's a weakness that has continued to persist and rears its ugly head repeatedly.

There is no more glaring example than last year's playoffs, where Brown was a disaster when putting the ball on the deck. During the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra schemed his defense to exploit Brown's unwillingness to use his left hand, which prompted an onslaught of turnovers and internet memes. That pesky left hand was responsible for 25 turnovers throughout the playoffs, a final tally equally disastrous as perplexing.

NBA pillars like Russell Westbrook and Trae Young have turnovers baked into their illustrious careers, but it's admittedly different for Brown. There's something extra demoralizing about dribbling a ball off your foot or getting it poked away from behind. Or, how late in games he hesitated to explode to the rim in fear of losing the rock. I'm not a doctor, but I am a human being, and the body language spoke for itself.

Beyond turnovers, the defense was uninspiring. Someone with Brown's build being such a liability on times was a nightmare. Falling asleep on back screens and a handle worse than many D3 guards is a recipe to get fans to turn on you.

I can't blame fans for feeding into the aesthetic of it all. People fall in love with the image of what works, and if a player veers from that mold, the trade machine gets booted up. More than a few podcasts pitched a Jaylen Brown for Jerami Grant and Scoot Henderson swap. But, lost in the desire for constant change is the vision of growth. Even in a league that skews toward the young, the velvet rope that blocks the entrance to "Club Championship" tends to be lifted for stars 27 and up. No matter how muddled the story became, someone with Brown's talent can seamlessly change the narrative.

Jaylen Brown's Boston Celtics renaissance

Halfway through what's become a magical season for the Boston Celtics, Brown has re-gained his spark. Is it the budding bromance with off-season acquisition Kristaps Porzingis? Perhaps. Is it from signing the most lucrative deal in the history of the sport? Maybe. My theory: he heard the noise, is entering his prime, and wants to do everything in his power to win a championship.

The most telling sign to support my thesis is the point-of-attack defense. Kevin Durant is the only player to start over 30 games this season with a lower defensive field goal percentage than Brown. The languish has been minimal, and the tenaciousness has jumped off the screen. This rejuvenation has propelled Boston to the second-best defense in the league.

Despite a reduced role, Brown's offensive reprieve has been refreshing. Since the start of December, he has been at a scorching 60% true shooting, improved his playmaking, and shown immense confidence with the ball in his hands. Rather than being a square peg in a round hole, there's a willingness to be a strong supporting actor in a blockbuster movie.

Everything naturally looks better when being a part of the best team in the league. The trade machine fodder has slowly dwindled, and the Brown approval rating has never been higher. Even when the energy shifts, there's a pause for caution. Does this start truly outweigh the playoff disaster class that prevented Boston from reaching the Finals?

Where does Jaylen Brown go from here?

The repour Brown has regained from the Boston faithful is irrelevant if he's again the leading candidate for why the Celtics don't raise their 18th banner. There is no debate about which team has the most talent in the league. 9th-man depth might matter in January but rarely does in May. There's an expectation that the only thing stopping this team is themselves.

The deck is firmly in Brown's favor. He doesn't have the pressure to be the best player on the team. Every Celtic starter can be lethal from beyond the arc, allowing ideal spacing for him to fly to the paint. With Porzingis in the fold, Brown tends to draw the third-most offensive attention, a salivating proposition for someone of JB's caliber.

If it goes well, the Larry O'Brien trophy makes its long-awaited trip back to Boston. #7 is a lock to fly in the rafters, and he cements himself as an all-time Boston sports figure. All questions are put on hold indefinitely.

If it goes south again, chaos likely ensues. Fake Brown trades will replace Travis Kelce/Taylor Swift content on everyone's timeline. Questions about where he ranks amongst the NBA hierarchy will dominate media cycles. There will be concerns about Tatum's future in Boston if Brown proves too unreliable. It could get messy and fast.