Jaylen Brown was a Freshman at the University of California Berkeley trying to prove his potential greatness to Isiah Thomas. Comparing his game to his mentor Tracy McGrady, showing off his handle dribbling through cones and putting on his display what his biggest question mark prior to the 2016 Draft: his perimeter jumper.
"Let me feel it! Show it to me! Show it to me!" Zeke said under the baseline of the Golden Bears practice gym. "You see how that ball roll back to you? That's when you are shooting it good. You done shot the lights out, lord have mercy. I can eat me some popcorn, jump up and say yeah! That's what I'm talking about. That didn't touch nothing."
Here in year six, Brown has gone through maybe one of the best evolutions the game of basketball has seen this decade.
Former Celtics President Danny Ainge and Owner Wyc Grousbeck received some boos through disagreement that draft night when Boston selected Brown at three. Some suspected he would not fall until close to 10.
"We are very very happy to build with a piece, maybe an important piece: Jaylen Brown," Grousbeck said after the third selection of the 2016 draft. "Danny and his staff feels he has got significant upside. He is already an accomplished player at a young age, feel that he has got the physique and the competitive drive and motor, the skills and really important: the character and intelligence."
The Celtics owner continued to show his confidence in drafting the teams cornerstone.
"Really impressed with Jaylen A to Z and looking forward to having him in Celtic green and think it is the right move for our team at this time and for the future."
Welp, it seems as if Grousbeck only spoke the truth into reality.
How It All Began
Image: Justin Saglio/Boston Globe
Brown appeared in 78 contests and started in 20 of them during his rookie campaign. Although Boston made their first of a couple Eastern Conference Finals through Brown's young career, his game and true talents did not really show as precedented for a third overall pick while on the court through 17 minutes per game.
Just turning 20-years-old, he only put up 19 points or more twice. That perimeter jumper that he had showed Thomas on Cal's campus seemed pretty dead at times. His 34 percent from out there was solid for a rookie, but that was with 47 makes through 136 attempts.
With the Golden Bears, Brown had always showed his capabilities of freakish athleticism and explosiveness on either end of the floor.
However, his first big game in the pros came on his first start on Nov. 3, 2016, where he displayed a ton of skill and promise against LeBron James' Cavaliers.
As his first postseason came around, Brown's role seemed to be uncertain. He was a DNP during the midst of the Celtics 2-0 comeback led by Isaiah Thomas in game five of the first round against the Chicago Bulls when Brad Stevens was moving pieces around to ignite the team.
It did not last for long, as Brown never sat for another game and later on in those conference finals with another 19-point outing at Cleveland making seven of 11 shots in 23 minutes of play. The Celtics fell short in this one as well in efforts to equal the series at two. Brown's first year as a pro concluded from there.
Image: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
At the conclusion of the Celtics full roster cleanse due to the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the stunning acquisition of Kyrie Irving, Ainge had given Brown a late night call and had a message for the young swingman. His message was to be ready for more opportunity, that which Brown had the perfect response for.
"I was born ready," the Georgia native said.
Brown's promise had to be answered earlier than expected as Hayward went through one of the most gruesome injuries the NBA could remember just five minutes into the 2017-2018 season. There was JB again, showing out in Cleveland, this time with the man who hit probably the biggest shot in Cavs history on his side.
Year two was a different story for Brown, as he clearly became motivated by his General Manager's encouragement. This time around through the regular season, Brown instantly showed major improvement averaging over 20 points per game his first few contests.
He had 13 games of 20 points or more and during his dominance in that first round series against the Bucks, his two 30-pt games propelled him to becoming the youngest player to do it in playoffs series since Derrick Rose.
Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier's stellar and impressive play at such a young age led them all the way to another ECF against James' Cavaliers, where they came up just short being minutes away from the Celtics still craved Finals appearance.
"Did not improve enough," said the frustrating Brown after the game 7 loss at TD Garden. "I mean it is always two ways you can go. It is either you can make an excuse and complain about it, or you can use it and make yourself better."
You can sense the motivation on the wings' face mixed with angry and disappointing emotions. "Right now it stings, it hurts, it is tough, but it is going to make me better." And right he was. That summer, Boston's leader at the time in Irving expressed his sense of who Brown would become.
"One of the most interesting people to talk to," his former teammate said.
Irving and Bill Simmons discussed how you could tell he would be a player who uses his platform in a way like no other.
Bump in the Road
Image: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
With all of the extremely high expectations with the Celtics getting their two leaders back and their two rising stars having gained major experience, year three did not go anything close to as planned for Brown and Boston.
He took a huge backseat to the rest of the players only putting up 13 a contest and was eventually moved to the bench, making him arguably effected the most out of the main-rotation core. Brown had only averaged 25 minutes per game.
Many thinking potential title favorites or at least winners of the East, all egos did not mesh well for the Celtics and they were sent home early in the playoffs. The teams designed franchise player in Irving made the rumors ring true of him eventually walking which set a trend as everyone knows, Hayward and Al Horford did down the road as well.
Image: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Boston was clearly entering a fresh start. Even with the signing of Kemba Walker who had just came off an All-NBA season putting up 25 a night for the Charlotte Hornets, the idea was to build around both Tatum and Brown, who right out the gate did not disappoint. His partner made his first All-Star appearance and Brown was a final candidate who was just snubbed as both became 20-point scorers.
JB appeared as his true-self with the accustomed efficiency shooting 48 percent from the field and 38 from deep. Where he really displayed his true colors and showed the human being he is and will continue to be as a young man was in the summer of the NBA hiatus as the NBA Bubble was set to begin.
Making a Difference in the World
Image: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Boston Herald
In May of 2020, Brown led a peaceful protest in his home state of Georgia after driving 15 hours from Boston following the killing of George Floyd. As a Vice President of the NBA Players Association led charge with a megaphone of his own and of course, an, "I Can't Breathe," sign for the symbolism of Floyd, his death and social injustice America.
The intelligent Brown spoke upon his social movement. "Being a celebrity, being an NBA player, don't exclude me from no conversations at all," he said. "First and foremost, I am a black man and I am a member of this community. We are raising awareness for some of the injustices that we have been seeing. It is not ok."
Brown has always been incredibly vocal when it comes to human relations. Besides social injustice issues and mental health, the 25-year-old began giving TED talks on education and learning with life relations at universities such as Harvard for example and MIT prior to even reaching his adult years.
His speech prior to the Celtics' MLK Day game in Boston versus the Pelicans at the center of the parquet floor was a prime example.
Brown understands the ever-lasting platform he has built as he presented his true identity before giving a speech at Harvard in the beginning of his career.
“I get this question a lot. ‘Jaylen, do you identify as an intellect or do you identify as an athlete?’ And to be honest, I never give anyone a straight answer. To be honest, I hate the dichotomy, I hate the fact that it has to be one or the other, I hate the fact that there’s no possibility for both. In my reality, there is.”
Coming Into His Own on the Court
Image: Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press
Brown really began his stardom in the NBA bubble, where he averaged 21 points and seven rebounds shooting 46 percent from the field and 36% from three-point land. In the 2020 postseason en route to his third conference finals appearance in his four seasons, Jaylen had about the same stats with 11 games of 20 points or more. JB was a human-highlight reel in the bubble.
Falling just short of the Finals yet again, Brown used that fuel in the shortened-offseason to continue to show how he just continues to grow each and every campaign like no other. Even though his season was cut-short in the spring due to wrist surgery, he made his first All-Star game with averages of almost 25 a night on 48 percent from the field and almost 40 from the perimeter.
At the start of the 2020-21 season, Brown came out with pure dominance as one of the league's best scorers with over 27 a game and was an MVP candidate. You could sense his improvements with the basketball gaining a wicked handle with the ability to take it the floor and go coast-to-coast even more than usual.
Brown was already elite at finishing at the rim, but now adding an outstanding jumper with complete footwork and the ability to pull up from deep. Especially due to the handle and footwork, he has been beginning to look more and more like his desired-idol in T-Mac.
The Present Moment
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Brown has carried it all over to this season and having missed a bit of the first half of the season due to hamstring issues, the dominance is still there. He and the Celtics opened the season at Madison Square Garden where in their thrilling loss, Brown became first Celtic to put up 46 in an opening contest. He began the season on another level again.
Having just turned 25 with strong candidacy for his second All-Star game, despite Boston's struggles, logically, Brad Stevens is smart to continue pursuit of building around the teams' two young superstars, who have the builds of what any front office what desire: two-way wings who have no holes their game whatsoever.
The goal is to build a competing roster around the two young basketball prodigies. Growing pains happen when learning leadership, despite Boston's hot January.
Parter, close friend and teammate Tatum understands the goal amongst all the adversity.
"Obviously, we live in a world where we on our phones and TV and we see all the things about we can't play together and everybody in the media saying that one of us gotta go and we just had a talk that we both want to be here and we both want to figure it out," Tatum said. Tatum showed his love for his teammate.
"There is not many players in the league like JB," he said. "The grass ain't always greener, and we have had some great stretches and I think just this year has not been what we expected, but I think in the long run it will be good for us. We gotta figure some things out, but, I think the most important thing is we both want it extremely bad."
He continued to dive deep into the noise.
"We are going to try and figure it out together, and so for us to just be on the same page I think is extremely important," Tatum said. "Knowing that we got each others' and we are going to give it all we got to figure this out, regardless of what people may say."
Brown has been one of the leading scorers across the league for the month of January with 26.8 PPG and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting and 41% from three.
"For me it is all a learning experience," Brown told Thomas at Cal. "Everything is education and I want to understand what I am going in, I want to understand the politics, I want to understand everything, so I can be able to navigate and be able to put myself in the position to be successful."
Grousbeck and the Celtics really found themselves a special one. "For me, it is just putting myself in a place to just help people," he said. "Basketball is something I love to do and I feel like I have been blessed, so I want to help others with my blessing and I want to just pass it on. It will be good to win 10 championships, 10 MVP's and 10 gold medals or whatever but I feel like my calling is really, truly to help people."