Leading up to the 2016 NBA draft, there were a wide variety of opinions regarding who the Celtics should take with the third overall pick. While Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram were the consensus top two, several names were in play for Boston at No. 3.
Many C’s fans were pulling for the local kid, Providence senior point guard Kris Dunn. Sharpshooter Buddy Hield was another popular choice after leading his Oklahoma Sooners to the Final Four. Still others were in favor of Kentucky’s freshman scoring sensation, Jamal Murray. Dragan Bender, a 7’1” 18-year-old from Croatia, was also an intriguing possibility for those hoping the Celtics might strike gold in Europe like the Knicks had a year earlier with Kristaps Porzingis.
There was not a lot of buzz centered around 6’7” Cal freshman forward Jaylen Brown. His Golden Bears were a third-place squad in the Pac-12 that fizzled out with a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament to 13th-seeded Hawaii. Nothing about Brown’s stats jumped off the table either–he put up 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting just 29 percent on three-pointers. To no surprise, when the Celtics called Brown’s name on draft night, a smattering of boos echoed through the TD Garden crowd on hand to watch the evening’s festivities.
Nearly half of Brown’s rookie season is now in the books and the 20-year-old clearly isn’t lighting the world on fire. Through 37 games, he’s averaging 4.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per contest.
Although Danny Ainge and company drafted Brown with an eye on the future, it’s hard to be patient considering he’s the Celtics’ highest pick in nearly two decades. Boston hasn’t had the opportunity to see a top-three selection develop since 1980, when it chose Kevin McHale third overall (No. 2 Len Bias sadly passed away in 1986 and Rick Pitino traded No. 3 Chauncey Billups 51 games into the 1997-98 season).
It’s a rare situation for a premium lottery pick to be fighting for minutes on a team on pace for 50-plus wins. But putting that aside, Brown is still performing as well or better as any of the other players the Celtics could’ve drafted instead of him.
An injured Simmons has yet to see the floor for the 76ers, while Ingram is averaging just 7.9 points on 37-percent shooting for the Lakers. Bender, who went fourth overall to Phoenix, is scoring the fewest points (3.1) and logging the shortest minutes per night (12.3) of any of the active top seven picks.
Minnesota grabbed Dunn at No. 5, but the 22-year-old has had little impact on the last-place Timberwolves. Dunn is posting 3.9 points and 2.5 assists per game as Ricky Rubio’s backup.
After cracking the Pelicans’ starting lineup in early December, Hield, the No. 6 pick, is showing signs of life. He’s connecting on 39.6 percent of his threes and scoring 9.2 points in 20.3 minutes a night. However, Hield’s competition for playing time consists of former Celtics second-rounder E’Twuan Moore, longtime Maine Red Claw Tim Frazier and Tyreke Evans, who may have peaked as a rookie with the Kings in 2009-10. What would Hield’s stats be if he was playing behind Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and possibly even Gerald Green?
Similarly, Murray, the seventh selection, is averaging 8.0 points in 20.3 minutes as a reserve shooting guard for the 14-23 Nuggets. Those numbers would likely be cut in half if he was part of Boston’s backcourt.
On a Celtics roster thin at small forward, Brown is making the most of his opportunity with the second unit. He’s already an outstanding transition player, which the Utah Jazz recently discovered:
Jaylen Brown gets it done on both ends! ? pic.twitter.com/ipTWncfgj5
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 4, 2017
Brown’s 32.5 three-point percentage is low by NBA standards, but he’s upped it since college while adjusting to the longer distance. His overall field-goal percentage of 44.3 is the best among the top seven picks from last summer’s draft and his 50.8 true shooting percentage is second only to Hield’s (51.1). Most impressive of all, Brown’s 0.4 win shares total is the second highest of the bunch (after Hield’s 0.5, as calculated by Basketball Reference), despite playing the second-fewest minutes.
His potential may be what excites C’s fans, but Brown is keeping up his end of the bargain in the present as well.