For a time during past summer, it seemed Jaylen Brown’s work as a racial activist might completely overshadow his play on the basketball court.
But the one-time Cal standout is making sure no can look away on game days this season.
Still just 24 in his fifth NBA season, Brown is averaging 27.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He is shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 44.1 percent on 3-point attempts. Anyone who watched him struggle from the perimeter at Cal has got to be impressed, if not amazed.
He has scored 42 points in a game twice this season and the seven players ahead of him on the NBA scoring chart are bonafide all-stars: Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luca Doncic.
“The way that he’s scoring, his patience, his poise,” teammate Marcus Smart said of Brown’s improvement. “His rookie year, that Jaylen Brown just put his head down and not even understand where he’s going. But he works hard and you’ve got to give him credit. That’s why he’s one of the best young players in this game, doing what he’s doing for this team. I’m just very, very proud of him.”
Fans can get a look at Brown’s continued development Saturday evening when the Celtics host LeBron James and the Lakers. It’s not Larry vs. Magic and there will be no fans at TD Garden, but the 5:30 p.m. game on ABC does renew the sport’s greatest rivalry.
The game also provides Brown and the Celtics another chance to find their rhythm now that their lineup is intact. Kemba Walker missed the season’s first 11 games while recovering from a knee injury. Jayson Tatum sat out five recent games after testing positive for COVID-19.
Brown has been the staple, averaging 29.4 points during Tatum’s absence.
“He’s constantly working to improve; he doesn’t play passive and I think his skill, his improvement and his aggressiveness is a good combination,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s been amazing scoring the ball. He’s constantly improved and again he’s never lost his aggressiveness.”
Brown, in fact, shouldered the responsibility to do more, even after scoring 42 points in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers a week ago Friday.
“A lot of that is on me,” Brown said after the 76ers scored 73 second-half points. “I’m one of the leaders and captains on this team and I got to be a better leader on that side of the ball. I got to lead these guys defensively.
“We’ve got to get after teams. We have to have that villainous mentality on defense. Just really making people’s nights a living hell. I can do that and be great offensively at the same time; it just takes a level on conditioning.”
All three of the Celtics stars played together for the first time this season on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs. Tatum scored 25 points, Brown 24 and Walker 14, but the Celtics lost 110-106.
Afterward, Brown cautioned against making too much of one game.
“I think just time and experience,” he said. “I think this was the first game of the season with us three on the floor together, and it showed. So I think it will get better in time, but we’ve got to do a better job of finding each other’s spots and allowing each other to have space. And the timing of it needs to flow a little better.
“You don’t want to overreact or anything, but we can for sure get better.”
They’ll try to take that next step tonight against LeBron James and the Lakers.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo