Jaylen Brown caused much consternation among a subset of Celtics fans when Boston signed him to a 4-year, $107 million contract extension ahead of Brown entering the final year of his rookie deal after getting drafted third overall in the 2016 draft.
After all, a guy who averaged 13 points a game on .547 True Shooting and put up exactly zero VORP (as in, the same value you’d expect from a guy if you gave his minutes to an NBA-ready G-League player) is not the kind of guy to whom smart teams typically give max extensions.
Worst-case scenario, the Celtics had their very own Andrew Wiggins.
Best-case scenario…well, let’s take a look at the 2019-20 numbers at a little past the quarter pole of the season for the 17-6 (through games of Dec. 11) Celtics and see if Brown has truly turned the corner.
To qualify for Confirmed status on our Mythbusters-inspired three-point scale, Brown will have to demonstrate that his counting and advanced stats are in line with the kinds of players who make about what he’s making in his upcoming extension, which puts him in territory occupied by the likes of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, or Bradley Beal.
High standard? Yes. But that’s what you have to provide for $107 million over four years.
The Counting Stats
Brown is posting career highs in points per game (19.9), rebounds (7.0), assists (2.3), FG% (.505), eFG% (.572), FT% (.727) and minutes played (33.4.)
Per 36 minutes, even with the increased workload, Brown’s efficiency holds up, and per 100 possessions, he’s averaging 28.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.
So far, so good.
The Advanced Stats
Brown is posting 2.9 VORP/82 a year after posting “no better than a good G-Leaguer.” That’s a flying leap forward.
It’s still not on the level of, say, Luka Doncic (3.6 VORP as a rookie, 10.33 VORP/82 and leading the league in VORP this year), but c’mon. Brown would have to be making Chris Paul money before we’d count it fair to start comparing him to the best player to come into the league and light up the NBA in a season and change since LeBron James.
A better comparison is Oladipo when healthy, who made $21 million in 2017-18 to post 4.5 VORP.
Or Beal, who made about $25 million and posted 3.7 VORP last year.
Brown’s not as good as either guy but makes about the same money. That’s…disappointing.
On the upside, he’s posting .169 WS/48, which is a 69-win pace if everyone on your team does that. The Celtics are not the Bucks or Lakers. They’re not on the kind of tear where .169 WS/48 makes you below average.
The “average” Celtic given the team’s won-lost record should post a .147 WS/48. Brown is .022 better than that. That’s good, but again, are we sure that’s “value” for a max extension off a rookie deal? He needs to be closer to that exalted .200 tier, the way Sabonis posted that .197 (the same WS/48 as Kyrie Irving and Karl-Anthony Towns) last year.
Am I holding Jaylen Brown to an impossibly high standard here? Well, yes—he does make a buttload of money, or will starting next year, and he needs to put up superstar numbers.
And also no, because let’s face it, going from no VORP to three VORP means Brown should draw serious consideration for Most Improved Player. This is even further out of nowhere than Pascal Siakam came last year.
Brown’s extension was, on October 21 when he signed it, one of the most ridiculous “what on earth is Danny Ainge thinking?” signings possible.
And yet Brown is evolving in Year 4 into the legitimate NBA player Boston always hoped he could be when they drafted him, and with his prime still in front of him—Brown turned 23 just three days after signing the extension—it’s hard not to see him growing into his salary slot.
He’s not as good as other guys at his salary level…yet. This one’s Plausible.
NEXT WEEK: Jayson Tatum. One good Celtics story deserves another.