Following a disappointing start to the season and a minor back injury, Jaylen Brown has said he’s fine coming off the bench.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy.
“It’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with so far in my career,” Brown told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan in an article Wednesday about the Celtics forward’s new role on the team.
“Just coming from a position where you had so much responsibility, and now that responsibility is lessened,” he said. “Expectations have been raised, but your responsibility goes down, so it’s hard to reach those expectations when you aren’t being asked to do as much.”
Following a breakout sophomore season in the NBA, the Celtics forward had seen serious declines in his offensive and defensive numbers this fall.
According to ESPN’s advanced statistics, Brown’s “Real Plus-Minus” rating recently ranked 417th out of 430 players in the league. And through the first 20 games of the season, the Celtics — who started the season just 10-10, despite the return of two healthy All-Stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — played significantly worse when he was on the court.
Brown’s puzzlingly poor performance even led teammate Marcus Smart to confront the 22-year-old after a recent loss, garnering only a silent nod in response.
According to MacMullan, Brown still sees himself as a starter. However, his performance has improved since he was demoted to the bench.
Brown missed three games after hurting his back after a scary fall contesting a shot during a Nov. 24 game against the Dallas Mavericks. He was replaced by Smart in the starting lineup, and the Celtics proceeded to win their next three games. The team has also won the three games since Brown’s return last Thursday.
While still a small sample size, Brown has apparently been reinvigorated by his new role, averaging 21 points a game (nearly double the 11 points he was averaging as a starter through 20 games), attempting more free throws, and shooting a better percentage, while playing just two fewer minutes a game. According to MacMullan, he took some of his time off recovering to reflect, watch game tape and “identify why he was putting so much pressure on himself.”
Still, Brown says that coming off the bench is “going to continue to be a challenge” and wants to prove he belongs in the Celtics’ loaded starting lineup. Amid support from his teammates and the Celtics organization, Brown is outwardly confident that he can make that case off the bench. As he told reporters following his return from injury last week, “Basketball is basketball.”
“Right now, people are throwing out all these numbers, these stats, and they are saying this, saying that,” Brown told MacMullan. “I have unwavering faith in my ability, and I believe our coaching staff does, too. If anyone can handle this, I can. I’ve been through a lot in my short life. I’ll be all right.”