Nylon Calculus

Jaylen Brown is finally an off-the-dribble creator

Jaylen Brown has taken an enormous leap on offense this season, in large part by developing his off-the-dribble game.

In terms of offensive priority, Jaylen Brown still takes a backseat to Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum for the Celtics. He ranks in third in usage, third in scoring, third in field goal attempts per game, and third in frontcourt touches per game. While he may not be leapfrogging anyone in primacy, he’s taken a huge leap this season helping give Boston the best offense of the Brad Stevens era, relative to the league average.

Brown is averaging 20.6 points per game, averaging career-highs in field-goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages. Incredibly, he’s made those jumps in efficiency while creating significantly more of his own offense. Last season, 57.1 and 96.8 percent of his 2- and 3-pointers, respectively, were assisted on. This season, those numbers have dropped to 47.8 and 91.9.

Earlier in the season, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor highlighted improvements in Brown’s ball-handling as a driving factor in his scoring increase:

When Brown dribbled as a freshman at Cal, it was an adventure. Herky-jerky handles work only when it’s intentional or your name is Corey Brewer. Brown would try to change speeds, but looked robotic because he dribbled with such an upright stance, which limited his shiftiness. Now, in his fourth season, Brown seems to know what he’s doing. He’s changing pace and tempo with his dribble to manipulate defenders, and typically getting where he wants.

We can see that increased dribbling facility in his shooting percentages as well.

Raising his efficiency on catch-and-finish opportunities lifts his floor, but the second column reflects Brown lifting his ceiling. He has been significantly more efficient on shots coming after at least one dribble this season, with an effective field goal percentage well above the league average of 52.2 percent on all shot attempts.

Brown is driving more often, finishing slightly better, drawing more fouls, hitting more free throws and turning the ball over slightly less often. But the efficiency bump he’s getting from using his dribble to attack the basket hasn’t been nearly as big as the one he’s getting from using it set up his jumper. He is currently shooting better than 40 percent on both pull-up 2- and 3-pointers, averaging more than one attempt per game of each. That’s the kind of volume and efficiency that makes him viable as a three-level scorer. We can especially see the ramifications of this in his pick-and-roll work.

This season, in 29 games, Brown has already finished more possessions as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll (63) than he did all of last season (58), leaping from the 55th percentile in efficiency to the 89th.

In terms of possessions per game, Brown is still on the lower end, firmly in the territory of secondary creators like Aaron Gordon and Danilo Gallinari. The increase in volume doesn’t seem like a fluke, it’s actively being baked into Boston’s offense. However, because it’s still a relatively small sample of possessions — both pick-and-rolls and pull-up shooting in general — it seems likely that Brown’s current numbers may not be entirely sustainable.

But even if his shooting efficiency off the dribble and on catch-and-shoot attempts were to regress a bit, we’d still be talking about an offensive player who is much more impactful, much more difficult to guard and much more viable as a secondary or even primary creator against top-tier defenses. The Celtics’ championship odds have increased since the season began and a deep playoff run seems even probable if Brown can continue to be an offensive creator of this caliber.

Next: De’Anthony Melton a diamond in the rough for Grizzlies bench

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