Long considered a blue chip prospect, but steadily climbing the recruiting rankings over the course of his high school career at national power Wheeler HS in Alpharetta, Georgia, Jaylen Brown cemented his standing as a consensus top-five player in the high school class of 2015 as a senior before surprising some with a late spring commitment to Cuonzo Martin's Cal Golden Bears over the likes of Kentucky and Kansas. Averaging 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2 assists per game as a true freshman, Brown was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team, solidifying himself as a top-10 pick despite plenty of ups and downs.
Measured at 6'6.5 in shoes with a 7'0.5 wingspan and a 222-pound frame at the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit, the intrigue surrounding Brown starts with his prototypical tools for the small forward position. An explosive leaper in space with the strength to potentially spend some time at the power forward position at the next level depending on the matchup, Brown has long looked the part of a NBA wing.
The challenge for Brown as a freshman was parlaying those tools into consistent on-court production. Asked to fill a substantial role in Cal's space-starved offense, Brown did most of his damage playing off the ball spotting up or filling lanes in transition, but was also granted significant opportunities to create for himself off the bounce in the half court. Given considerable freedom, the freshman scored just .853 points per possession over 17.2 possessions per game to rank 149th in scoring efficiency among the 173 players using over 17 opportunities per game according to Synergy Sports Technology.
The sizeable role Brown played in Cal's oversized but underskilled lineups shined a spotlight on the good and bad elements of his offensive game, particularly in the half court. Coming out of the high school ranks with the reputation as a productive scorer, Brown shot 52% inside the arc, 39% from deep, and 70% from the line in the 50 games of stats we have for him in our database spanning his three seasons on the summer circuit at the prep level. Flashing the ability to make jump shots with range, but doing most of his damage as a slasher, the Georgia native with nothing short of spectacular at times on the AAU circuit.
Shooting 48% inside the arc, 29% from three, and 65% from the line for the Golden Bears, Brown didn't have the easiest time translating his game to the college ranks. With 51% of his shot attempts in the half court coming from the perimeter, the mechanical issues with Brown's jump shot became clear. Timing his release differently shot-to-shot whether he's pulling up off the bounce under pressure or shooting catch and shoot jumpers in space, Brown's mechanics are not particularly reliable at this stage. He casually fades away on some attempts unnecessarily, sometimes holding the ball longer than others at the top of his shot. His combination of mechanical issues resulted in the unimpressive 31% he shot from the perimeter overall.
As a slasher, Brown battled through bouts of inefficiency as well. Possessing a strong first step and impressive leaping ability off of one and two feet, Brown's fairly loose handle, lack of craftiness around the basket, and tendency to get tunnel vision and force shots into traffic led to his 45% shooting around the rim in the half court and top-100 leading per-40 minute pace adjusted turnover rate. While Cal's insistence on surrounding him with two to four non-shooters at all times didn't do him any favors, there's no doubt that his feel for the game is underdeveloped at this stage in his career, as evidenced by his poor -6.48 PPR, which is by far the worst passing metric among any non-big man in this draft.
As much as Brown struggled, he had plenty of positive moments offensively as well. He scored the ball well inside throughout the middle portion of the season and found some amount of consistency with his jump shot in the later part of Cal's Pac-12 regular season schedule. He's capable of scoring effectively around the rim, his jump shot isn't broken, and he gets to the line very prolifically, even if he is aggressive to a fault at times. He proved to be a willing passer, dishing out a respectable 2.9 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted, and scored impressively on the break, showing the ability to fill lanes or push the ball himself. Surrounded by better talent in a more up-tempo offense, Brown will likely have an easier time utilizing his superior physical tools and nose for getting to the basket in the open floor and half-court.
Looking far more comfortable on the offensive end some nights than others, Brown clearly has untapped potential as a scorer. If he can clean up his mechanical issues as a shooter and ball-handler, he could look like an entirely different player on this end a few short years from now. Not turning 20 until October, a key element of Brown's appeal at the moment is what he could become on this end after some grooming at the NBA level.
Largely the same things about Brown's offense can be said about him defensively. He has all the tools to be successful and potentially even defend multiple positions down the road, but struggled at times with his focus off the ball and discipline defending one-on-one. He had some flashes using his strength and lateral quickness to apply ball pressure impressively around the arc and make his presence felt in the passing lanes, and is a strong rebounder, but has plenty of things to clean up on this end as well.
Brown didn't have the season some expected him to at the college level, but has outstanding physical tools and plenty of room to continue to grow as a shooter, ball-handler and perimeter defender. Despite his up and down freshman campaign, there's a strong chance Brown hears his name called somewhere from picks 3 to 8 in the upcoming draft. Given his combination of size and athleticism, his success from that point will largely come down to how quickly his skill level comes around in the environment he's drafted into.