For a little while there, it looked like Jaylen Brown had turned the corner. He returned from a bruised tailbone last month and slid into a bench role with an entirely different mentality. He posted three consecutive 19-plus point games in blowout wins over the Bulls, Pelicans and Knicks, thriving in those matchups while attacking the rim regularly as the Celtics had seemingly all of their offensive weapons running on all cylinders. It was what fans and analysts had envisioned before the year began.
Much like this Celtics team all season though, Brown's progress is liable to stall against any team. After missing one game with flu-like symptoms last Wednesday, the 22-year-old has returned looking like the guy who began the year in the starting five and that's not a good thing.
He's shooting 22 percent from the field over the past three games (6-of-25 FG) and has missed all nine of his 3-point shots during that stretch. His 4.0 ppg average over those contests is the worst three-game run he's had since his rookie year and resembles the regression that the Celtics saw from him over the first 20 games of the year.
With injuries beginning to pile up, the Celtics are not in a great position to handle another slump from an expected key contributor. While three games is not a large enough sample size to get worked up over in the big picture, Brown's consistent struggles from beyond the arc make it fair to wonder just how much of his 39 percent shooting from downtown last year was the exception, rather than the rule.
Brown is currently the worst 3-point shooter on the Celtics roster (minimum: more than 20 attempts), knocking down just 27.1 percent of his 3s on the year, which is a 12 percent decrease from last season and down six percent from his rookie average.
The bigger concern from Boston's standpoint is just how prevalent his woes have been all season long. He's managed to shoot 33 percent or better from downtown in just eight of Boston's 30 games thus far, signaling that his accuracy isn't weighed down much by a few really ugly nights. It's been a sustained struggle, dating all the way back to the preseason (3-of-17 from deep).
A look at his individual shooting numbers signifies a potentially bigger crisis. More than half of Brown's 3-point attempts have been wide open (no defender within six feet of him) and he's knocking down just 24 percent of those shots on the year.
When Brown is taking simply 'open 3s' (defender between 4-6 feet away), the numbers are nearly just as bad (27 percent). The swingman is taking great shots from downtown (89 percent of those attempts are either open or wide open) so this is clearly not a shot selection issue, which is the most worrisome part of this.
To put it in perspective, Brown hit 43 percent of his wide-open 3s last year and 34 percent of his open ones.
The eye test backs up these numbers in terms of Brown's struggles as well. He missed very badly on two of his three attempts on Wednesday night, airballing a 3 from the corner and missing wide right off the backboard on another 3 at the top of the key in the second half. Those misses likely factored into Brown getting benched down the stretch as Stevens searched for some reliable offense in a 111-105 loss to the Suns in which Boston managed just 66 points after the first quarter.
It's commendable that Brown has changed his scoring mentality a bit and developed into more of a paint threat in recent weeks since moving to the bench, but the Celtics are still going to need him to hit wide open jumpers in order for their offense to thrive on most nights. They can't afford to have Brown shoot like Semi Ojeleye from the perimeter, especially when he's sharing the floor with him or Marcus Smart.
There may be some underlying factors to his struggles. He's been dealing with a bruised right hand after a hard fall in Dallas last month that he aggravated over the weekend. Perhaps there is some other injury we don't know about or some confidence issues are hitting hard. However, it's going to be harder for Stevens to keep him on the floor for 20-plus minutes per game if he can't knock down an open look from deep regularly. Last year's numbers show he has that capability, but the Celtics need more.