4 things to watch as Jaylen Brown returns from injury vs. Bucks

The Celtics need Brown back at full strength badly.

Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown and the Celtics face the Bucks on Monday. AP Photo/Darren Abate

Jaylen Brown will return to the Celtics‘ lineup on Monday against the Bucks after missing the entire west coast trip, where the Celtics went 1-4.

Here are four things to watch, as the Celtics get some badly needed star power back.

1. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics’ starting lineup misses Brown fiercely. With Rob Williams, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart on the court, the Celtics outscore opponents by 19.6 points per 100 possessions if Brown is the fifth player. They are outscored by 18.6 points per 100 possessions with Dennis Schröder in Brown’s place.

That stat is unfairly ugly for Schröder — the Celtics have a -0.3 net rating when he plays, and he’s a net positive (+1.7) offensively.


The big difference? Defense. The lineup with Brown gives up just 87.6 points per 100 possessions — 96th percentile among lineups league-wide. With Schröder, that number balloons to 110.4.

The Celtics as a whole really need to fix their defense: Over the last two weeks, they are 21st in the NBA, allowing 114.2 points per 100 possessions. Brown is a good-not-great defender (excellent on the ball, a little inattentive off) but he’s explosive, versatile, and (of course) a premier scorer.

“[We] started to talk too much about offense or focus on offense, especially with the 130 against Utah and the 145 against Portland, and I think our focus shifted there instead of what we do naturally well and what kept us in games and won us games,” Ime Udoka said on Sunday. “So the identity obviously is to rely on defense, be a great defensive team and give ourselves a chance as far as that. …

“Adding a 25-point scorer back will help there, but still being who we are defensively night in and night out.”

2. Brown’s return will redistribute a lot of offense in positive ways. His usage makes up 26.7 percent of all Celtics possessions, and he’s scoring 1.13 points per shot attempt. Per the NBA’s stats, Brown’s overall net rating is +5.9.


“It’s 25 points you have to make up for basically, minus the continuity and what he brings to the team defensively, and him being out there, how much it affects everybody else,” Udoka said. “You’re relying on him to do so much just like we do with Jayson and some of our other guys — playmakers, we talk about Dennis or Marcus or whomever it may be, but him being on the court, the attention he draws, it gets everybody else open shots.”

3. Getting Brown back in the lineup will be crucial. Perhaps equally crucial: Tatum and Brown have to prove they can coexist as stars, and sooner would be better than later (more on that in a minute). In games with Brown, Tatum has averaged 21.2 points per game. In games without him, Tatum is at 29.6 (Tatum is yet to miss a game this season, so the reverse doesn’t work — Brown is averaging 21.2 points per game).

We are, of course, not saying Tatum and Brown are inoperable — there’s a ton of context missing in those stats. Tatum has to take over games without Brown (and has done so). Lineups with Tatum and Brown outscore opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions — an improvement on the Celtics’ overall differential of +1.0.


Still, Brown and Tatum together average a combined 43.1 points per game when they both play. That simply isn’t enough for this Celtics team, which is 18th in offense.

4. If Brown and Tatum can lead the Celtics on a run, now is the time to do it. Monday’s game against the Bucks is another tough one in a brutal stretch that includes the Warriors, Sixers, Bucks (again), Clippers, and Suns. Currently sitting at 13-14, a 16-20 record to end December is plausible, and worse is possible — the other three games before Jan. 1 are the Knicks and Cavaliers (who both beat the Celtics once) and the Timberwolves (who are inconsistent but have shown some flashes).

The next two weeks might define the Celtics’ season, and they finally have both stars back in the lineup. We will know a lot more by the time 2022 arrives.


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