Celtics

ESPN ranks Celtics Jaylen Brown 27th, Marcus Smart 49th in NBA

"Brown broke through in a big way last season."

ESPN ranks Jaylen Brown
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart and guard Jaylen Brown celebrate after a play during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Houston. Troy Taormina/Pool Photo via AP

In its latest list of the top 100 players in the NBA, ESPN ranks both Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown in the top 50.

The network released Nos. 26-50 on its list on Wednesday, which included the two Celtics — Smart at No. 49, and Brown at No. 27.

Smart dropped a bit, falling 13 slots after last season. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted that Smart’s slide was likely due to a short playoff run that failed to showcase his defensive skills and injury issues that plagued him all season.

Brown, meanwhile, rose five spots. He trailed only Brandon Ingram among the players released on Wednesday. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps wrote that Brown’s 3-point shooting — which has consistently been in the high 30s over the last few years — has been a source of encouragement for the Celtics. Brown made his first All-Star team last year and was the Celtics’ best player for stretches.

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“Brown broke through in a big way last season,” Bontemps wrote.

Both Brown and Smart are expected to handle the ball more in 2021-22, particularly with Kemba Walker gone. Smart will likely take over full-time point-guard duties, while both Brown and Jayson Tatum will try to break down the defense off the bounce as well.

Tatum, of course, will likely be in one of the next tiers released by ESPN.

New Celtics coach Ime Udoka takes over for a team whose three best players are all 27 or younger.

“Something that you see in the perception of [Brown] outside this organization is All-NBA-level players, MVP-caliber players,” Udoka said at his introductory press conference. “And getting to know them over the last few years, you’ve seen their growth. They’ve taken huge leaps this past year, and we look forward to them continuing in that progress.

“It’s my job to put them in situations to be successful, push them to be greater, and like I said, the sky is the limit for those guys. … You have two foundational young pillars like those two, it’s exciting to build around them, continue to help them grow, and reach their potential. So the sky is the limit with those two.”

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