Donning an orange coat revealing a white hoodie underneath, Jaylen Brown was preparing to speak to reporters on Zoom after another tough loss to a conference rival.
Completing Brown's outfit, a black cap featuring a smiley face lurked over the visible disappointment on his face following the Philadelphia 76ers' 122-110 win over the Celtics on a night where he tied a career-high of 42 points.
"A lot of that is on me, I'm one of the defensive leaders and captains on this team. I got to be a better leader on that side of the ball," said Brown at the post-game presser Friday night, dismissing his dominant offensive outburst.
That same defensive-focused and restless mentality he presented during the press conference is something that speaks to Brown's personality. He's never satisfied, willing to put in the work, and always looking to expand his game. Entering his fifth year in the league, Brown's development from his rookie year to now is hard to ignore.
Coming out of college there were plenty of concerns regarding Brown's game as scouts had doubts about what his potential would be.
"[Brown's] not the first freak athlete to come along. If you don't match that with understanding how to play you can float," said one scout featured in a Sports Illustrated article that reviewed the Celtics' first-round pick after the 2016 NBA Draft.
Brown knocked down only 29.4% of his three- point shots in college and there were obvious concerns whether he'd be able to develop a jump-shot in the pros.
"He's got to improve his shooting. He's got to be able to survive the floor as a shooter in some form or fashion," said another scout about Brown, according to C.J. More of Bleacher Report.
At this stage in his career, Brown has squashed all of those concerns, averaging career-bests in scoring (27.3 points), and shooting 43.8% from downtown this season. Also adding career bests in assists (3.4) and field-goal percentage (52.8%), Brown is quietly emerging as Boston's best all-around player.
While developing into one of the best two-way players in the NBA, Brown's improvements from his rookie year are astounding, which can be credited to his relentless work ethic, defensive intensity, and unselfishness.
As the No.3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, expectations were tempered despite being a top-5 pick. Considering his limited offensive game coming out of college, not much was expected from him in Year one. With players including Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley around, it was going to be tough for Brown to find a significant role in the Celtics' rotation.
In only 17.2 minutes per game, Brown averaged 6.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists on 45.4% shooting, including a 34.1% three-point clip. Despite his 3-point shooting percentage being much better than his college numbers, Brown was still a work in progress. His numbers dropped dramatically in the playoffs, where his three-point shooting (21.7%) and scoring (5.0 points) declined. While there wasn't much expected from him in his limited role, Brown did enough to show flashes of why the Celtics drafted him early in the first-round.
After a rookie year that presented limited opportunities and inconsistent play, Brown took a big leap in his second year in the league, jumping to splits of 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 46.6% shooting, and improving his three-point average to nearly 40%. With an offensive rating of 101.8 in his rookie year, his rating skyrocketed to 109 in his sophomore season—a testament to his improvement on the offensive end.
Always known for his impact on the defensive end, Brown earned recognition for his scoring ability, especially in the playoffs where he first showed signs of the player he's become today. Taking advantage of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving's injuries, Brown starred in the 2018 playoffs, leading the Celtics to the Conference Finals with Jayson Tatum.
Producing 18 points per game on 46.6% shooting, Brown's offensive game was on full display with an expanded role. Scoring 30 points twice and scoring at least 23 points seven times during that playoff run, Brown officially cemented his place as one of the Celtics' top offensive players.
With a healthy Gordon Hayward coming back to start the 2018-19 season, the Celtics were the clear favorites in the East. However, with all the talent Boston possessed, it took a significant toll on Brown's play as his minutes dropped to only 26 per game (down from 30.7), and three-point shooting (34.4%) regressed. His regression was most notable in the playoffs, as he scored over 20 points just once all postseason and had a plus-minus of -44.
Struggling to find a role with the loaded roster the previous season, Brown re-emerged himself as one of the Celtics' top performers following Irving's departure before the 2019-20 campaign. Brown became a 20-point scorer while adding 5.8 rebounds per game, establishing himself as one of Boston's best players. Although the regular season was shortened to only 57 games last season due to the pandemic, he made the most of his opportunities.
Brown entered the season with a lot more confidence and a larger role, as he showcased a mix of slashing, playmaking, and shooting that he hadn't displayed early in his career. Scoring between 30-39 points six times, and 20-29 points 28 times, the Celtics star's potential was on full display.
With a career-high 106.8 defensive rating, Brown put himself in the conversation as one of the best all-around defenders in the league. Also improving his free-throw shooting to a 72.4% clip, it was easy to see the work he put in during the summer after a disappointing third season.
That confidence grew in the Disney bubble where Brown's 21.8 points, and 7.5 rebounds on 47.6% shooting helped lead the Celtics to the Conference Finals. Although it wasn't enough to overtake the Miami Heat, the doubts that scouts once had about Brown's abilities coming out of the draft were put to rest. After a season where Brown blossomed into a star right in front of our eyes, he was ready to take another huge leap in 2020-21.
Fast forward to that 42 point-scoring output against the 76ers, and it's clear Brown's potential has gone through the roof. The 16-of-28 from the field and 5-of-8 from deep shooting performance helped highlight his offensive efficiency, which has been at an absurd 25.9 so far to start off the 2020-21 campaign. That was the second time Brown's hit the 40-point mark this season and to top it off, he has already scored over 25 points 11 times this year.
While it is a small sample size, Brown's incredible pace is something that needs to gain more attention.
At this point in his career, it's clear Brown's development is a product of his work ethic, attention to detail, and drive to be great. Although Tatum has received most of the attention for his growth as a shot-creator and scorer, Brown’s steady growth over the course of his career has been overlooked. Once labeled as only an athlete and defender, he's become much more than that.
In his fifth year, Brown not only continues to make strides on the defensive end, but he's quietly become one of the league's top scorers as well. Sitting tied for sixth with Luka Doncic in scoring, in the top-five in total points (436), and second in field goals made (167), it's important to bring more attention to Brown's offensive outburst 16 games into the season.
For someone who averaged less than 10 points a game and only shot 31% from range in his rookie season, Brown has grown into arguably the Celtics' best and most complete player—even over Jayson Tatum.
With hopes of contending for championships in Boston, a lot of pressure will be put on Brown's shoulders. Carrying his dogged approach on the defensive end and persistent work ethic, Brown is more than capable of handling the pressure thrown at him. He's overcome doubt, role changes, a disappointing season, and many tough losses. Now, developed into one of the league's premier young talents, Brown is attempting to overcome the biggest challenge of all--- becoming the next great superstar in this league.
Photo used courtesy of Getty Images
Photo used courtesy of Getty Images