My Sophomore Crush: Jaylen Brown knows his role on the Celtics

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 23: LeBron James
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 23: LeBron James /

It’s summer — popsicles, beaches, campfires and summer love. As the heat rises, time slows and crushes develop. We’re leaning into that amorous mood this week at The Step Back, sharing our sophomore crushes. Last year may have given us an uninspiring rookie class, but we’re feeling pretty enamored with the future.

As a rookie, Brad Stevens trusted Jaylen Brown. It wasn’t always to the fullest degree — Brown didn’t close games, for instance — but he was trusted more than most rookies are on good teams.

Brown didn’t always succeed. Early season assignments against the likes of LeBron James saw Brown fail. And 17.2 minutes a game makes him more of a fringe role player than a key rotation piece. But the substance of Brown’s minutes shows what he could be in his second year.

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Brown doesn’t do one particular thing well. He defends, and is willing to do so, but he’s not overly physical. He is a good shooter, but at 37.1 percent on 1.7 attempts per game last year, he’s not a dead-eye shooter. As a creator, he can drive the lane and pass, but he’s not an offensive hub. In other contexts — say, the talent-devoid Kings or Nets — this might be a problem. On the Celtics, it’s a perfect fit. They do not need him to be everything. They need him to be part of the solution.

Last year, in Isaiah Thomas’ breakout season, Brown slid into a jack-of-all trades role. In his second year, it’s unlikely that role will change. Not only is Thomas back, as is the bulk of last year’s Celtics team, but they added Gordon Hayward. And while Hayward is versatile enough to slide off the ball, the Celtics didn’t add him to do that. He’s coming to create, to handle the ball. Thomas will lose touches, sure, but his value is based on what he can do with the ball in his hands.

For Brown, this means more of what he was last year. In year two, perhaps in more minutes and perhaps in closing lineups where the Celtics maximize flexibility, he can build on what he did. On defense, he’s going to be vital for the Celtics. With Avery Bradley gone, and no direct replacement added, Brown can find minutes filling in there. That, in all likelihood, means defending spots 1-3. Depending on the bulkiest of the opposing team’s four, maybe some time inside. In today’s NBA, that’s a unicorn skillset. It also should make him more valuable to this Celtics team than Jayson Tatum, a rookie defined by his scoring ability more than anything else.

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It’s perhaps too simple to say it this way, but Brown’s job is to fill in space and do the jobs Thomas, Hayward and others can’t. He did it last year and thrived. This year, he’s poised to do the same.