On Thursday night, the Celtics beat the defending champion Warriors 92-88 to extend their winning streak to 14 games. Boston’s leading scorer in the victory was not, as you might have expected, the much-discussed, debated and celebrated Kyrie Irving. It was, instead, Irving’s backcourt-mate, a 21-year-old second-year player who dropped 22 points hours after learning his best friend had died.
Jaylen Brown might be the biggest reason the Celtics look like the best team in the Eastern Conference and a favorite to reach the NBA Finals. The springy guard has improved his scoring average from 8.1 to 15.1 points per game this season while nearly doubling his rebounding output. With Avery Bradley gone, the Celtics have leaned heavily on Brown (He’s tied for the team lead in minutes per game), and he has responded by drastically upping his game.
Brown has developed faster than even the most optimistic analyst would have dreamed. He was picked No. 3 in a 2016 Draft considered to have a definitive top 2, and many observers considered the selection a reach. Brown was young and raw, and he had struggled with his jump shot in his lone season at Cal. The more seasoned and proven Kris Dunn seemed like the obvious pick for a Celtics team looking to win in the short term.
But while Dunn and many others in that draft class have struggled, Brown has become a star ahead of schedule. He is one of the most athletic players in the league, a strong defender, a ferocious dunker and a promising perimeter scorer. He can both create his own shot and work within the flow of an offense, then lock down elite scorers on the defensive end. And he’s only 21 years old.
All of Brown’s skills were on display Thursday against Golden State, when he led the Celtics in scoring while helping guard Finals MVP Kevin Durant. On one play in the first quarter, he stripped Steph Curry, out-hustled Zaza Pachulia to the loose ball, then threw down a powerful tomahawk.
The hype is VERY real, people.. Jaylen Brown is a monster! 👏🏽😈pic.twitter.com/AiPz70WC7M
— Leading NBA (@LeadingNBA) November 17, 2017
After the game, Brown revealed his best friend from high school (and the star of a recent viral video) had died the previous night, adding some weight to what was already a remarkable performance.
Many of the NBA’s new young stars (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns) are frontcourt players with guard skills. But with Brown breaking out emphatically in the season’s opening weeks, it looks as if the league will soon have to make room for an old-school scoring wing among its superstar ranks. Brown may or may not maintain his early-season scoring, but he has clearly made a jump since averaging only five points per game in last spring’s playoffs. If he takes another jump or two, he will soon be an All-Star… or better.
The Celtics’ success this season and beyond will depend largely on veterans Irving and Al Horford, but if Boston breaks through and reaches the NBA Finals, its success will owe largely to the sudden and dramatic development of their young and uber-talented shooting guard.