Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.
BOSTON – When it comes to high NBA draft picks, there’s always a certain roll-of-the-dice dynamic in play, regardless of how impressive their credentials were in making them one of the first players selected.
Among this year’s incoming rookie class, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown is indeed one of the many men of mystery whose professional basketball career officially starts in a few months.
Drafted third overall, the 6-foot-7 Brown wasn’t exactly greeted with the warmest reception by Celtics Nation, many of whom wanted Boston to draft Providence College star Kris Dunn (he was the fifth overall pick, to Minnesota) or package the No. 3 pick with other assets to acquire a superstar-caliber player like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Utah’s Gordon Hayward or one of the Philadelphia big men, Jahlil Okafor or Massachusetts native Nerlens Noel.
But as Celtics fans witnessed when he was among the biggest stars on Boston’s summer league entry in Salt Lake City, as well as Las Vegas, Brown is indeed a player with tremendous potential that could be realized as soon as this season.
The ceiling for Brown: All-Rookie honors
Brown’s most likely starting point as a pro will be serving as a backup to Jae Crowder, the unofficial Swiss Army knife of the Celtics roster. As we saw last season in Crowder’s first as a regular NBA starter, he can play a lot of positions on the floor and be effective.
Brown isn’t close to being as versatile as Crowder, but he does provide versatility at the wing position due to his above-average length and a level of athleticism that stands out among his fellow rookies.
Depending on what Brown does with his minutes at the start of the season – and he will play early on – he could parlay his on-court time into extended minutes, which would give him a shot at being one of the top rookies this season.
Brown isn’t going to put up the big-time numbers that Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram, the No. 1 and 2 picks, will register. Still, unlike those two players, Brown will be fighting for playing time on a legitimate playoff contender.
Both the Sixers and Lakers are poised to once again be among the worst teams in the NBA.
That means Browns’ success can’t be based on statistics, but instead it has to be about impact. We saw glimpses of that in the summer when he showed off his ability to attack the rim and draw contact, which resulted in him taking more than 10 free throws per game.
No one is expecting Brown to be that proficient at getting fouls called for him, especially when you consider only two players in the NBA last season – Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Houston’s James Harden – averaged 10 or more free throws per game.
But Brown’s aggressive style on offense, coupled with above-average athleticism and length defensively, will bode well for his chances of being more than just a solid rookie for Boston.
Brown has the potential to make a noticeable impact, the kind that would most likely land him a spot on one of the NBA’s All-Rookie teams and move him a step closer towards being one of the NBA’s better players – a goal he has set for himself.
The floor for Brown: Active roster
If Brown struggles offensively and doesn’t adjust defensively as quick as coach Brad Stevens wants, Brown could find himself on the bench racking up a few DNP-CDs (did not play-coaches decision) this season.
Still, even if that happens, the Celtics will not let him spend too much time at the end of the bench and certainly wouldn’t look to have him on the bench in street clothes as a healthy scratch. They would just as soon send him to play or practice with the team’s Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
While the rumors swirled on draft night that Boston was indeed planning to make a blockbuster-type move that would have involved the No. 3 pick, you won’t hear anyone in the front office complaining about drafting Brown.
They love his competitiveness, his drive to steadily improve as a player as well as his athleticism, which sets him apart from most of his Celtics teammates.
But only time will tell just how quickly the faster-paced NBA game will come to Brown. He’s a player the Celtics – for now at least – have every intention of including as part of their core group going forward.