Jaylen Brown was just getting started in his one season on the Cal basketball team.
It seems that's also how Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens views Brown, even after his fourth season in the NBA.
“Jaylen’s a high achiever,” Stevens said late in the season. “You can be a high achiever in every which way. He’s a guy that – we’ve talked about several times – is gonna do bigger things off the court than on it, and he’s a special player on it.”
Brown, who celebrates his 24th birthday today, had his best pro season in 2019-20, despite the distractions and interruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. He averaged 20.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in the slightly shortened regular season, then amped that up to 21.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in 17 postseason games as Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
In the six-game series vs. the Miami Heat, Brown contributed 23.2 points and 7.2 rebounds, including five games of at least 20 points.
Brown acknowledged he is playing with more confidence.
“The more you see the game, the more you understand the game, the better you are,” he said. “As you get that time and that experience, the timing, the game kind of slows down for you. I see the game differently than I did two years ago.”
But Brown also had his most impactful year off the court. As the country grappled with racial injustice in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Brown stepped forward.
He drove from Boston to his hometown of Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest march after Floyd’s killing and he was a consistent voice on social issues from within the NBA bubble as the season resumed in Orlando, Florida.
Stevens said he is more impressed all the time by Brown’s contributions.
“I just think he’s extremely thoughtful, extremely caring and has great moxie and courage,” Stevens said. “And so you add all of that together, and the basketball is just a glimpse into who he is, and then when you start learning more about him you realize who he really is, and he’s a special guy.”
Brown revealed this week on the Ellen Degeneres Show that he considered skipping the NBA restart after his grandfather, Willie Brown, was diagnosed with cancer.
Willie Brown served as Jaylen’s personal quarantine trainer, prompting Jaylen to call him “the toughest guy I’ve ever met” on the DeGeneres program.
“He’s like a superhero,” Brown said. “He’s been to the Vietnam War, he’s been shot in the head twice, he’s had a heart attack, cancer, COVID, all at the same time, and has beat it all.”
Brown said on the show that his grandfather initially told hm he was tired and unsure about his future. The two ultimately made an agreement that Jaylen would finish the basketball season if his grandfather kept fighting.
“He liked the sound of that, and he signed up,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, the Celtics.com website this week named Brown the team’s most improved player after a poll of fans.
The Celtics had two particularly strong candidates for this season’s Most Improved Player Award in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Either player could have won the award, but when it came down to our MIP Twitter poll earlier this week, it became clear that Boston's fan base very much appreciated Brown’s development throughout the yearlong campaign, as it gave him 52.6 percent of the 14,763 votes that were cast - nearly doubling the mark of 28.5 percent for Tatum, a first-time All-NBA player.
We here at Celtics.com are in total agreement with those results.
A McDonald’s All-American as a high school season, Brown played the 2015-16 season at Cal, averaging 14.6 points as a freshman and helping the Golden Bears to their most recent NCAA tournament appearance.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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