Last April and May, Jaylen Brown was a breakout starter on a Boston team that made the Eastern Conference Finals, where he dropped 30 points one night and averaged 18 points a game, getting 14.8 shot attempts per game, and he had the ball in his hands a lot in the postseason. He had a playoff PER of 16, above the league average.
This regular season Brown and the Celtics have not been the same. With the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward Brown’s role shrunk, he’s playing five fewer minutes a game, his scoring is down to 12.5 points per game, he’s shooting less than 30 percent from three (when he was close to 40 percent a year ago), his PER is down to 11.1 (well below the league average), and the Celtics’ offense is 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court. Brown has been pushed back to a bench role, with Marcus Smart starting.
Mostly, Brown is just frustrated.
Opposing teams have privately used words such as “disjointed” and “detached” to describe him… The question “What’s wrong with Jaylen Brown?” became a leaguewide referendum.
“It’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with so far in my career,” Brown says. “Just coming from a position where you had so much responsibility, and now that responsibility is lessened. Expectations have been raised, but your responsibility goes down, so it’s hard to reach those expectations when you aren’t being asked to do as much.
“It’s been a challenge. It’s going to continue to be a challenge. It’s all about your mindset, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Brown said he remains convinced he’s a starter in this league, and on this team, and will prove it.
What Brown is going through is part of what had Boston off to a rough 10-10 start this season — guys were struggling to adjust to new roles. It wasn’t just plug and play with Irving and Hayward like many assumed it would be. And it wasn’t only Brown, Terry Rozier reportedly has been frustrated with his reduced role, while Hayward’s larger role had to be scaled back because he was not physically ready.
Brown’s drop off just seemed the steepest.
The Celtics’ locker room leaders — Irving and Smart — are trying to reach Brown with some tough love, trying to push him and “demand greatness,” but with limited success. Brown continues to struggle, and is doing so in the summer before the Celtics can offer him a new contract (more likely he will be headed to restricted free agency in a couple of years).
Much like the Celtics, it’s not an easy fix for Brown (although Boston has started to find a groove, winning six in a row through the soft part of the schedule). His adjustment is mental as much as physical, he feels he earned the right last season to have more responsibility, not less. That sacrifice is the challenge of playing on a contending team, where everyone needs to take steps for the good of the team that are not always in their best interests. Brown and Boston have been slow to come around on that.
But Brown is trying. And he still believes in himself.
“So here’s my reality: I’m an NBA player on the Boston Celtics, a team that has a chance to compete for the NBA championship. Nothing else really matters.”