Jaylen Brown will enter training camp for the Boston Celtics a newly wealthy man. Well, OK, he was already doing pretty well, but his new supermax deal worth nearly $300 million will make him No. 2 on the highest-paid list when the deal starts in 2024-25, and should keep him among the 10-best paid players in the league through 2026-2027.
Statistically, Brown has blossomed in recent years, and he averaged 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season to earn a second-team All-NBA selection. That, theoretically, puts him in the Top 10 among NBA players, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find folks around the league who would call him a Top 10 player.
“Top 25, definitely,” one scout told me. “Top 20, you can make the case. Top 15? No, he’s not there.”
And he probably won’t be. Brown will have to accept that along with the new contract comes a new level of criticism, because until other players sign bigger deals (and they will, soon), he will always be looked at in the context of what he is being paid. For the foreseeable future, he is almost certain to be found lacking.
Brown has done well to maximize his talent as an NBA star, to hone his ability to find ways to score despite his court-vision limitations and his well-chronicled foibles as a ballhandler, especially in the postseason (he averaged 4.8 turnovers in the Celtics’ four losses to the Heat in the 2023 East finals). There are some aspects of his game he just won’t be able to improve. But, talking with NBA coaches and scouts, there are some areas where Brown can get better, immediately.
And given what he will be paid in his extension starting next season, he really ought to get better here:
1. The left hand. NBA assistant coach: “This is the obvious thing about Jaylen, and it probably gets overstated—a lot of players are not great with their off hands. But he just needs to be smart about it. The problem Jaylen has is not so much that he is not as good with his left hand, it is that he does not want to admit he is not as good with his left hand, so he tries to make plays with it, anyway. He just needs to find one reliable move to his left and just use that to keep defenses off guard. He does not need to be Meadowlark Lemon out there.”
2. Defense. NBA scout: “His rookie season, the only reason he got on the floor was because he was so intense defensively and, obviously, he has the tools to be a great defender. He has pulled back on that somewhat, which makes sense—guys like Kawhi Leonard or LeBron (James) who were great defenders when they were young, they pull back and just play great D in spurts. But they’ve got offensive weapons. He can sacrifice his effort offensively a little and just really be a more of a star on that defensive end, more like a Klay Thompson as a two-way guy. He does not need to work on anything for that, it’s just deciding where to spend his energy.”
3. Transition. NBA scout: “He is one of the best players in the league in the transition. Again, that is not something he needs to work on. It’s just, if the Celtics are on the break, you want to see him out there every time. When he is coming downhill on that break, he is at his best. I just want to see him do that every time he can.”
4. Open shots. NBA assistant coach: “There are guys, more than you would think, who shoot it better when they have someone on them. Like, they want that contact, they want a guy within a couple of feet. Jaylen is one of those. You always want to contest, of course, you don’t want him to get too comfortable. But if he has no one within four or five feet of him, we know he is going to shoot the same percentage as having someone up on him, maybe worse. Overall, he needs to be better from the perimeter but he could get his numbers up just by being a little better when we leave him open.”
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