This was supposed to be the year the Boston Celtics assumed control of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics were coming off consecutive conference finals appearances, LeBron James was safely ensconced 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were returning from injuries that caused them both to miss the postseason.
Instead, what was supposed to be the deepest team in the league has sputtered to start the season, unable to find lineup combinations that maximize the breadth of talent at Brad Stevens’ disposal. Irving said the Celtics were near rock bottom, Marcus Smart said they were “playing like punks”, and an 11-10 record has Boston in sixth in the East, just two losses ahead of the ninth-place Washington Wizards.
One of the more curious developments of this year has been the play of Jaylen Brown. Brown had an excellent sophomore season, thriving in the absence of Hayward to lead Boston in net rating (plus-7.5) alongside Al Horford. The third overall pick in the 2016 draft was already showcasing the ability to be a primary wing defender. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, Brown was a perfect piece in the Celtics’ switching system, resulting in a 100.7 defensive rating during the 2017-18 regular season.
On offense, Brown hadn’t yet shown the capacity to be a creator, but that was less important on a team with Irving, Hayward, and Jayson Tatum. Brown made 40 percent of his threes last year, including 44 percent from the corner. He was capable of going off for big performances, like when he became the youngest Celtic ever to score 30 points in a playoff game, and seemed to be a seamless fit in what projected to be a much improved offense for Boston.
But somehow, the third-year Celtic has experienced a dramatic drop-off this season. His net rating has plummeted to negative-2.3, the worst among Boston’s rotation players, and especially damaging considering he still plays 28 minutes per game. SB Nation’s Paul Flannery wrote that Brown “has veered awkwardly between all-out aggression and looking completely lost.”
Brown’s offensive efficiency has reverted to his rookie year level. He has eschewed the Celtics team-wide problem of favoring the midrange over shots at the rim and threes, but that doesn’t mean he’s converting many of those looks.