‘I’m just adjusting’: For Jaylen Brown, how has Joe Mazzulla’s system been different so far?

"Sometimes it feels better to just get in a rhythm when the ball comes to you."

Jaylen Brown Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown says Joe Mazzulla's new system has been an "adjustment." Jim Davis/Globe Staff

After dropping 30 efficient points in the Celtics‘ 128-112 victory over the Pistons on Wednesday, Jaylen Brown was asked about his playmaking.

Playmaking has been a primary topic of conversation around Brown, particularly after last year’s postseason when he struggled mightily to hang on to the ball — his 3.1 turnovers per game nearly matched his 3.5 assists.

The early results this season have nearly matched those struggles. Brown is averaging 2.9 turnovers and 2.8 assists in the early going. Per Cleaning the Glass, Brown’s assists as compared to his usage place him in the 15th percentile league-wide — one of the Celtics’ few disappointing results in the early going.


“This has been kind of a different style of basketball I play here with Joe [Mazzulla],” Brown said. “So I’m just adjusting, trying to be aggressive, and also be myself at the same time. I’m just still trying to find that balance.”

But what has been so different?

“The emphasis I think for me has been more off-ball,” Brown said. “Setting screens, being a roller, playing off-ball. And sometimes it feels better to just get in a rhythm when the ball comes to you. You can be the one making the play, be the one creating for others helps you get going.

“Just trying to find that balance, being aggressive and continuing to find different ways to be impactful in the game of basketball.”

How has Brown’s offense shifted this season?

A deeper dive into the numbers clarifies Brown’s point. Per the NBA’s stats, he is shooting 6.3 catch-and-shoot attempts per game, up from 4.9 last season. Meanwhile, his pull-up attempts are down to 4.6 attempts from 5.7 last season. He’s taking 8.2 shots without a dribble this season (up from 6.6 last year).

So Brown’s shot attempts as a whole look a little different. The offensive sets are too. Last year, spot-up opportunities made up 25.4 percent of Brown’s offense, per Synergy Sports — the highest percentage of his possessions. This year, his spot-up opportunities make up just 21.1 percent of the Celtics’ offense, and his transition opportunities have outstripped his spot-ups (63 possessions to 58) so far.


More specifically to Brown’s point, his off-screen possessions are up from 9.1 percent to 13.1 percent of the Celtics’ possessions per Synergy Sports, and he is struggling to make up the difference — 0.89 points per possession instead of 1.12 last year. His pick-and-roll opportunities are a little lower as well — 14.5 percent of the Celtics’ possessions, as opposed to 16.2 last season.

Some of that was probably to be expected. Since last year’s trade deadline, the Celtics collected two more ball-handlers in Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon. Meanwhile, as Jayson Tatum improves his passing and ball-handling (and increasingly looks like an MVP candidate in the process), the Celtics increasingly look to him to generate their offense. All of those ball-handling opportunities come at the expense of the Celtics’ other star.

Maybe more to the point, as Brown put it on Wednesday, “eleven games in, it’s a long journey.” While 11 games is an interesting sample size, those numbers could all normalize as the Celtics get used to their new coach.

If Brown can adjust to his off-ball role, he could have a big season. With high usage, he’s scoring 1.01 points per possession, and he hasn’t even started to make 3-pointers yet (33.8 percent on 7.4 attempts per game). Using Brown as a screener for Tatum has been deadly, and using Tatum as a decoy from Brown has been nearly equally so.


“Just playing basketball, at the end of the day,” Brown said. “Focusing on the game, seeing the floor, making the reads, playing, having fun and taking advantage of opportunities. That’s what you see on the floor, just some guys having some fun.”

Should Celtics fans be worried about Brown’s role?

The good news: Brown — like all of his teammates — has essentially exclusively good things to say about Mazzulla and says he is bought in on the new style.

“I have all faith in Joe, and all faith in our team, so as we continue to grow, I’ll figure it out and see where my spots are,” Brown said. “I think I’m a better player than I showed these last 10 games, but we’ve been winning, so we’ve just got to keep that up and keep that the emphasis.”

And if Brown has concerns, he feels more than comfortable talking to Mazzulla. After the third quarter on Wednesday, Brown and Mazzulla appeared to have a mildly tense interaction, and Brown turned to the bench. Mazzulla, however, grabbed Brown’s jersey and pulled him back into the conversation.

“Even times when I don’t want to talk to Joe, Joe is like, ‘Nah, you’re gonna talk to me,’” Brown said with a smile. “So I appreciate that relationship from a head coach, and I’m looking forward to it.

“We all believe in Joe. I believe in Joe. So I’m excited about the journey. There’s going to be challenges, we’re only 11 games in, we got a lot more to go. So we’ve just got to keep grinding.”


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