Jaylen Brown is one of the more unique players in this draft class, and not from a basketball perspective. Take, for example, the fact that Brown opted not to hire an agent leading up to the draft, instead relying on a team of advisors that includes Isiah Thomas and Shareef Abdur-Rahim to help him through the process.
Even when he was being recruited by colleges, Brown waited until late on a random Friday night in the spring to announce that he would be spurning the bluebloods to enroll at Cal. There are NBA decision-makers that think he may be too smart for the league, so to speak.
He also happens to be the physical ideal for an NBA small forward with a long way to go to be an NBA player.
Height: 6′ 6.75″
Wingspan: 6′ 11.75″
2015-16 Stats: 14.6 points, 5.4 boards, 2.0 assists, 29.4% 3PT
STRENGTHS: Brown is everything that you could possibly want out of an athlete at the small forward spot. He’s 6-foot-7. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He’s athletic in every way you would need to be athletic: He can run in transition, he’s explosive in space, he’s explosive in traffic, he’s a one-foot and two-foot leaper, he’s quick laterally, he’s strong. It’s all there, and it’s easy to look at him and see a guy who can eventually be an elite perimeter defender in the NBA.
That athleticism comes into the equation when Brown is attacking the rim, be it in transition or in half court settings. He’s a highlight reel waiting to happen when he’s got a head of steam going, and he’s quick enough that he can get by a defender from a standstill. In other words, he doesn’t need to attack a close-out in order to get to the bucket.
Brown is still very raw at this point in his development. He’s a work in progress — I’ll get to that in a minute — but it is important to note that he shows flashes of potential. He can change direction and he has some body control. He doesn’t have stiff hips, showing off the wiggle needed to get around defenders in the lane. He has the ability to do all of that. Learning to control it is a different story.
WEAKNESSES: Brown is essentially going to have to be taught how to be an NBA player. He doesn’t have a great feel for the game at this point, and he doesn’t quite understand how to use his physical tools.
The best example I can give of this is his dependency on playing bully ball. That worked in high school, when he went up against guys that didn’t have the same level of strength and athleticism that he does. It didn’t work at the college level, where 22-year olds in the Pac-12 aren’t going to let themselves get run over by a freshman that doesn’t have combination moves in his repertoire just yet.
He lacks craftiness, particularly around the rim, and he doesn’t quite understand how to avoid picking up offensive fouls. This issue also manifests itself with Brown’s tunnel vision. He’s not a selfish player and he’s a good enough passer when he sees the play developing, he just doesn’t yet understand where helpside rotations are coming from and who is going to be open as a result.
It didn’t help matters that the biggest issue Cal had this season was floor-spacing, meaning that, at this point, Brown’s skills should translate well to the NBA, where he’s going to be on the floor with plenty of shooters. But the bottom line is that, at this point in his development, he’s essentially a straight-line driver and not much else. That will only get you so far.
The other issue is that his shooting and his ball-handling is not at an NBA level yet. He’s super-inefficient, and much of that is due to his poor shooting. He shot 29.4 percent from three, 48.2 percent from inside the arc and around 45 percent at the rim. Throw in his turnover issues — nearly a quarter of his isolation possessions resulted in a turnover due to ball-handling issues and questionable decision-making — and what you get is a guy who produced solid numbers but needed a ton of opportunities to get those numbers.
Also worth noting: As much potential as he has defensively, he’s still learning how to maintain focus for an entire possession. Watching film on him, he has a tendency to ball-watch and can be a step-late on rotations. He can also be a total nightmare defending on the ball.
His jumper is fixable. His handle can get tightened up. He’s going to get better defensively playing in the NBA. He can be a starter in the NBA at some point in his career, it just may not be for a while.
NBA COMPARISON: The name you always heard as a comparison for Brown during his AAU days was Stanley Johnson. They played the same position the same way, and they had the same haircut. That’s usually enough to draw lazy comparisons.
It also doesn’t make much sense considering that Stanley had two inches and 20 pounds on Brown while Brown is a superior athlete. Given his issues offensively, Brown is a tough guy to project here. If he puts in the work, he could end up being Jimmy Butler. Hell, his physical tools and skill development is similar to what Kawhi Leonard‘s was when he left college, but the thing both of those guys have in common is that they lock themselves in a gym and won’t leave until they’re better than they were at the start of the day.
Does Brown have that in him?
OUTLOOK: Brown has all the physical tools that you could ask for out of an NBA small forward. He’s a shade under 6-foot-7, he’s 225 pounds, he has a wingspan that is just under 7-feet. He’s explosive, he’s mobile, he’s agile. He can defend guards and is strong enough to guard small-ball fours.
There isn’t much more that you could ask about of a small forward prospect athletically.
But whoever drafts him is going to have to teach him how to be an NBA basketball player, because he just doesn’t have the feel that you like to see out of a prospect. He … well, he looked like a freshman out there. He tried to play bully ball, which worked on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit but didn’t work against juniors and seniors in the Pac-12. He’s not selfish but he gets tunnel vision around the basket. He needs plenty of work on his jumper, both spotting up and off the dribble; someone with his athleticism should not be taking set-shot pull-ups. Some of his mental lapses defensively are inexcusable, and he’s careless with the ball offensively.
He has some bad habits that need to be broken, but everything about his game is fixable. The question is going to end up being whether or not he is willing to put in the work to make himself an upper-echelon NBA wing.