“With the fifth pick in the draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select… Jaylen Brown from the University of California…”
Let’s say Tom Thibodeau and company have the opportunity to select Jaylen Brown from Cal-Berkeley. Brown is just under 6-foot-7, weighs 223 lbs. (as of the Draft Combine), and has a wingspan just under 7 feet long. He spent one year at Cal-Berkeley and is slotted to go somewhere in the top 10 of this draft. He’s been rumored to go as high as the No. 3 pick to the Boston Celtics, and very well could be there for the Wolves at No. 5, if they keep the pick.
Brown averaged 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 27.6 minutes while shooting 43.1/29.4/65.4 on his percentages. ESPN had Brown ranked 4th in his high school class behind Ben Simmons, Skal Labissiere, and Brandon Ingram. 247Sports ranked Brown 5th behind those three players and Cheick Diallo. Rivals ranked Brown 3rd behind Labissiere and Simmons.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, and end on the positive stuff with Brown:
Bad Stuff: The jumper
Brown struggled as a catch-and-shoot guy at Cal. Synergy Sports has his guarded catch-and-shoot numbers as 16-of-55 (29.1%) overall and 16-of-53 (30.1%) on 3-point attempts. On unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts, Brown was 11-of-30 (36.7%) overall and 10-of-27 (37%) on 3-point attempts. We’re only looking at 85 attempts though, and it’s hard to know whether or not we’re seeing enough of a sample size to believe his jumper is broken or salvageable.
First, let’s look at his jumper. Here’s a good example of his form on catch-and-shoot looks:
My instant thoughts on this are 1) he doesn’t look that bad, 2) it’s a bit hitchy, which I think can be fixed by speeding up his release, and 3) his knees turn inward on the shot. The third observation is probably what any team drafting him has to figure out. Can you live with that as long as the release is smooth and consistent at the top or do you need to overhaul the base of his shot? I’m sold either way as being a truth to the future of his jumper.
Plenty of guys are able to shoot with knees turning toward the middle instead of being straight ahead. Kevin Martin has been a great outside shooter over his career with some weird leg stuff and Anthony Morrow doesn’t necessarily need that firm base in order to shoot. But comparing Jaylen Brown to those guys is probably a poor starting point in the discussion. Most likely, correcting the legs to a more straight-on approach will be the way to go.
Here are some misses from Brown in which you can really see the hitch slowing the quick decision to shoot the ball:
There were also a few examples of jumpers in which the hitch didn’t look so pronounced on the release. You can see the value of the catch-and-shoot from him if he’s able to run some pick-and-pop stuff as the popper.
Overall, jumpers from Brown this season (from anywhere on the court) had a success rate of 31.2% and an effective field goal of 40.6%. That obviously won’t cut it at the next level.
Bad Stuff: Shooting off the dribble
As poor as the catch-and-shoot numbers are, Brown shooting off the dribble is much worse. He was 14-of-50 (28%) from the field on shots off the dribble and just 1-of-8 (12.5%) on 3-pointers off the dribble. It is not a part of his game at all. The good news is only about 13% of his shots this past season came off the dribble, so he wasn’t exactly looking for this as a viable option within his offense.
Like it is with most young players who struggle with their jumper, a lot of Brown’s shots off the dribble often lacked a good plan or proper balance once he got into his shooting motion. Regardless of whether or not he made the shot, some of these shots in the video below just look like poor troubleshooting within the offense.
Even in the two makes in this video, his balance and composure on the shot are all over the place. It barely worked against college athletes and defense. Against the NBA athletes and defense, we need to see much higher quality in those attempts. He wasn’t devoid of those quality moments though. There were a good chunk of pull-up jumpers that seemed to have a good rhythm to them, whether he made it or missed it.
Even though these are all misses, I loved the looks. The 3-point shot isn’t exactly his friend yet, and attacking the basket isn’t always the option. I know we’re supposed to abhor the mid-range jumper, but it can still be a quality look in certain situations. Maybe I’m just mixing up my brain because we’re talking about the Wolves here, but some of these good looks reminded me of shots Andrew Wiggins might take in the flow of an attack.
Check out his shot chart from ShotAnalytics and you’ll see a big ole mess. Left corner was OK. Right corner was an apocalypse. Certain areas of the mid-range look livable, while others look like he might not know which hand he’s supposed to use when shooting. The straightaway 3-point shot was fantastic. The wings are gutter balls.
The good news on this front is there are a lot of people who believe his jumper is workable. I wouldn’t expect him to become a great scorer with the jumper in that sense, but someone you have to think about leaving before he takes one. The possibility of making him a league average 3-point shooter seems very realistic, according to several people around the league.
A lot of work to be done, but workable indeed.
Bad Stuff: Isolation scoring
It’s a lot of the same stuff regarding jumpers off the dribble, but hoping Brown can be a valuable isolation scorer when things break down on offense seems optimistic at best. He shot 42% from the field in isolation possessions, which isn’t bad, but he scored just 0.681 points per isolation possession, which is very bad. That puts him in the 35th percentile. The reasons he shot well but his PPP is so low are the turnovers and not getting to the free throw line (5.9% of the time).
Brown turned the ball over 23.2% of the time in isolation. And he rarely drew fouls to get to the line, despite having a physical advantage over a lot of these guys. He struggles going left in isolation, but excels going right. So any decent scouting report will tell the defender to force him left and make him beat you that way. Brown getting to the basket yields a much higher PPP (0.809), but again, he’ll probably be forced to beat you with the jumper.
Bad Stuff: Scoring as a pick-and-roll initiator
Last thing on the parts of his game that need work are in the pick-and-roll. This is where Brown can have a real advantage at the NBA level, but he’ll need to get better scoring in these situations. He shot really poorly as a pick-and-roll ball handler, making just 33.3% of his shots. However, his PPP were higher than they should be (0.74) because he managed to get to the free throw line a ton in these situations. He shot free throws 21.9% of the time as a PnR initiator because he was able to turn the corner coming around the pick and put the defense in a tough situation.
He almost never split defenders when attacking PnR coverage, and he often used the pick instead of going away from it. Half the time he used the pick, he ended up with a shot at the basket. He just didn’t convert them all that well. But in those situations, he ended up shooting free throws 28% of the time.
When he turned the corner and wasn’t able to get by the next level of defense, he would seemingly panic in trying to get a shot up. That often led to a wild attempt that needed a few prayers to get it to fall in the rim. I don’t know if this is realistic, but learning that spin back to the middle from Wiggins would take this part of his game to an incredibly high level. That remains to be seen though.
OK, that’s enough negativity. Now let’s get to the good stuff:
Good Stuff: Passing out of the pick-and-roll
While Brown struggled to make shots when he was running PnR’s, he excelled quite a bit at finding teammates for scores. Granted, a lot of this stuff involves the qualifier that it’s a small sample size, but Brown was one of the best in the country at passing out of pick-and-roll sets. His passing created 1.081 PPP (89th percentile) and accounted for about 5.9% of his attack.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the decision-making, let’s watch this highlight he had finding Tyrone Wallace.
Splitting the coverage by going between his legs, passing around the next level defender, and then that finish by Wallace. LAWDY, I GOT THE VAPORS SOMETHING FIERCE! That’s probably the most fun play he created for someone else, but he showed a ton of good instincts when trying to find teammates as the defense took away areas of the floor for him.
Remember, don’t pay attention to the shot so much. Some of these won’t even have shots. Just imagine a teammate making a good decision with the ball once Brown has manipulated the defense to get it to him.
The comfort of these passes looks ideal, although there is some sloppiness that needs to be ironed out. The majority of the plays he made are with him going right. I’m not doubting he can do it going left, necessarily, but there has to be a reason so much of this is him going to his dominant hand and not really showing him going the other way.
Even still, if he can consistently draw fouls in the PnR and find players, it allows him a bit of wiggle room in becoming a guy who can make shots in those possessions, as well.
Good Stuff: Body control in transition
Jaylen Brown isn’t some otherworldly highlight factory like Zach LaVine is in transition, but his ability to score in the open floor is still quite impressive. Overall, his numbers are pretty good. He scores 1.132 PPP in transition (66th percentile) and he makes 64.9% of his shots. This isn’t Kevin Durant on the break but there’s still quite a bit of good going on there.
What I find impressive about Brown isn’t him trying to dunk the other team back a couple of decades, but the great control he shows going toward the basket. You’ll see him attack a backpedaling defender straight on and then finish with the left hand on the other side of the basket. What’s great about this is you don’t see this kind of control from him attacking the basket in the half court, but you can see here that it exists.
It’s not so much whether or not he can do this around the hoop, but just him finding that speed of the game that will allow him to make it a consistent thing. He’s comfortable handling the ball in the open floor and he’s great at catching a pass in a slower transition type of scenario and quickly turning it into a shot at the rim.
Good Stuff: He’ll shut guys down
Synergy can be a little tricky when it comes to tracking defensive stuff. Some of the logging is guess work or just flat-out inaccurate. But if you watch enough video of the guy, you can get a sense of what he’s good at and what needs improving. Take the defensive numbers I’m going to provide with a grain of salt, but judge for yourself with the video provided.
Brown measures out as a very good defender. Especially in isolation, not a lot of guys get the better of the wing with a 7-foot wingspan. Synergy has him allowing 0.722 PPP in isolation but giving up just 25% from the field. What I like best about him in these videos is he doesn’t just recover with athletic ability; he does a great job of anticipating where the attacker is looking to go. Then he beats them to the spot or funnels them toward the help defender.
My biggest nitpick of Brown’s defense would be he doesn’t always finish these possessions in rebounding position. It’s great to force the missed shot and lower the team’s field goal percentage, but he needs to make sure he’s at least battling for the boards. Too many times on the video I watched, he becomes a viewer on the rebound instead of an active participant.
Good Stuff: Pick-and-roll defense
Brown also rates highly in pick-and-roll defense, and while I don’t really trust the numbers from Synergy on PnR defense (0.692 PPP, 40% allowed, 63rd percentile), I do trust that I like what I see on the video. That wingspan of Brown’s really helps him recover quite nicely on a lot of pick situations. He can still often challenge the shot pretty well, and he doesn’t really get hung up on a lot of screens.
He also does a pretty good job of cutting off the path to the basket and funneling to the next help defender.
You’ll notice though that Brown goes under the screen a lot. I don’t know if that’s personal preference or what his coach Cuonzo Martin was asking him to do. He has the length to get away with it a lot, but I’m a bit worried that won’t fly as much at the next level. It’s pretty difficult to go under against a lot of NBA scorers.
Although, getting drafted by the Wolves and being under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau would certainly iron out any issues there.
Good Stuff: Post defense
Post defense is something Brown also excelled at, which will be necessary at the next level. Brown could see a lot of time as a 3-4 tweener. If that’s the case, some coaches will try to exploit him by posting him up against bigger match-ups. Brown may have to put on about 15 lbs. in order to truly be able to match up against anybody, but the defensive principles are there.
He fouled a bit too much in the post, but when he kept his hands to himself, the opponent made just 32% in the post. This could end up making him an ideal stretch-4, despite being about 6-foot-7. Having that versatility on defense could make him invaluable. If he ever corrects to be an average outside shooter, then we’d see him become a perfect role player, especially for the Wolves.
Running out a lineup of Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Brown-Towns could be one of the better defensive units in the NBA in a couple years. But that’s only doable if Brown learns how to shoot, grows by attacking with his left, and proves himself to be a good rebounder for his position.
I love what I see with Brown. I see a very bright talent, who could probably be a bit of a project but a project worth taking. By all accounts, he’s an incredibly intelligent person and not just for a basketball player or just on the court. The dude is smart. It’s that intelligence that makes me love the fit with Thibodeau. He’ll want to know the reasoning behind every decision, not as a rebellious type but just a hoops junky looking to understand the game. That can rub some coaches the wrong way. I think that’ll make Thibodeau love working with him.
Do the Wolves have the patience and timing to have another project who probably can’t play his ideal position right away? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, if he’s even available at No. 5.