(First posted at Upside & Motor)
Jaylen Brown started the season ranked second on Draft Express’ board, perceived as a legit candidate under consideration to become the top pick on this year’s draft. But after half-a-season of college basketball under his belt, Brown is no longer considered to be in the same tier as Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, even while averaging 22 points per 40 minutes.
The physical attributes that make him an impressive-looking 19-year-old prospect are still there and Brown has flashed the appealing parts of his skill-set from time-to-time, building a good statistical profile along the way.
Nevertheless, he has not been able to elevate his team’s level of play ‘til this point. Berkeley has a squad stacked with potential NBA talent. Brown and Ivan Rabb are currently projected as lottery picks, while Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird are late second round prospects.
Yet, the Bears have been somewhat underwhelming this season, losing five of the seven games they’ve played against decent competition – beating Saint Mary’s and Utah but falling to San Diego State, Richmond, Virginia, Oregon and Oregon State.
I would argue this is mostly on the coach. Cuonzo Martin has failed to implement a style of play that fits the roster he has built. Despite having a few NBA-caliber athletes, Berkeley tries to play an execution-oriented game, walking the ball up the floor so much to the extent that it ranks 217th in the country in pace – according to Team Rankings. It has not been able to do that effectively, often taking half of the shot clock to set up its horns alignment that triggers the motion offense they try to run.
The Bears also can’t space the floor adequately to create enough driving lanes against a set defense. Their second best shooter (Bird) is having a miserable season, while Wallace and Brown himself haven’t developed outside shots that force the defense to account for them when they are off the ball. Martin hasn’t helped things much either by upping the minutes given to seven-footer Sam Okoroh over the last month, adding another non-shooter to the rotation.
The most appealing part of Brown’s skill-set is his ability to handle the ball while standing at six-foot-seven.
He excels the best in transition. Brown is a great contributor on the defensive glass, which provides him opportunities to grab-and-go. Pushing the ball up the court, he can change speeds on the open floor and attack a scrambling defense with explosiveness, finishing at the rim with power elevating out of one foot.
It would be terrific if Brown also had the opportunity to fill lanes on the break regularly as his teammates push the ball but, based on the tempo with which Berkeley plays, his coaches don’t appear to encourage his teammates to do the same.
Part of an ecosystem that also hasn’t put him in the best position to succeed against a set defense, I think Brown has been only OK in the half-court.
He has proven able to create shots for himself in isolation and out of the pick-and-roll. Brown doesn’t have a particularly explosive first step to blow by people on hard straight-line drives and struggled to turn the corner on big men Kyle Kuzma and Jakob Poeltl in the game against Utah.
But Brown has a hesitation move to get by his man one-on-one when a path to the basket is reasonable and has a large 222-pound frame that invites contact, which he’s proven able to maintain his balance through off the bounce and finish through. According to basketball-reference, Brown is posting a 53.5% free throw rate while averaging 8.5 foul shots per 40 minutes.
He has not yet shown much of a floater as legit asset to finish over length regularly but can finish with power elevating out of one foot and has shown touch around the basket on non-dunk finishes. According to hoop-math, Brown has converted on 72.6% of his 84 shots at the rim, with more than two-thirds of them unassisted.
Also of note is the fact that he has flashed the ability to take smaller players into the post from time-to-time, something Joe Johnson (a wing of similar physical profile) showed can be a tremendous asset if well developed. Brown can’t make turnaround, fade-away jump-shots very well yet but shows decent footwork to get around his man while lowering his dribble and lay it up at the rim.
There are couple of issues with him as a shot creator at this point, though.
His shot selection is very suspect. Despite being a poor outside shooter at this point of his development, Brown takes a lot of pull-ups. He can go side-to-side fluidly and uses shot fakes smartly to create separation but sometimes releases the ball on his way down, missing 72% of his 52 two-point jump-shots ‘til this point.
But maybe one can argue that’s the case because Brown often shares the court with as many as three other non-shooters, permitting opponents to crowd the lane in front of him. He has at times tried forcing the issue but the result of it has been many turnovers, as he’s averaging 4.6 giveaways per 40 minutes.
Brown has shown to be a willing passer on the move but mostly only takes advantage of a collapsing defense when the open guy is evident and some of those turnovers have also come when he has failed to recognize a help-defender shutting down the passing lane.
Furthermore, Brown also make his teammates’ life harder when he is off the ball the same way his teammates make his. He is a poor catch-and-shoot three-point shooter at this point, missing 35 of his 49 three-point shots this season. So, opponents can sag off him and crowd the lane. Brown doesn’t have a fluid release and needs plenty of time to get his shot off comfortably. Because of this, he has also been an unwilling shooter at times, leading to ‘record-scratch*’ moments every now and again.
(*Record-scratch is a term coined by RealGM’s Nate Duncan for players who completely kill the advantage created by their teams when they hesitate to take open shots or swing the ball around quick enough.)
Brown has also struggled from the foul line, converting just 62.6% of the 99 foul shots he has earned, often failing to keep his off-hand pointed up through the release. Such struggle in set shooting raises reason for concern regarding whether he will be able to develop into a more capable jump-shooter.
Brown possesses the physical profile to be an impact defender and provide positional flexibility.
He gets on a stance defending on the ball and stays on a stance on the weak-side as well, enabling him to react with quickness – evident in his speed closing out to shooters and his ability to maintain his balance as he does so, which makes it tough for the opponent to blow by him off the bounce.
Brown has exhibited pretty good lateral quickness to keep pace in isolation and has a seven-foot wingspan to contest shots effectively and be a threat to block shots as the trailer recovering from navigating over ball-screens.
He has strength to box out bigger players and plenty of athleticism chasing the ball off the rim, collecting 19.3% of opponents’ misses this season.
But other than rebounding, Brown hasn’t translated his athleticism into actively helping Berkeley finish possessions. Despite his ability to leap off the ground in a pinch and his positioning defending close to the basket by playing many of his minutes as a small-ball power forward, Brown has blocked just nine shots in 17 appearances. Moreover, all that length has not yet resulted in him shutting down passing lanes and he has not defended with active hands guarding on the ball, also recording just nine steals in 17 appearances.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara