There was a ton of pushback from fans when Danny Ainge used the third overall pick in 2016 on Jaylen Brown, but he’s really beginning to silence the doubters.
Brown had a solid rookie campaign in which he was named Second Team All-Rookie and now he’s really starting to take off as a full time starter in year two. He’s averaging 16.2 PPG and 6.7 RPG this season, but the last few games have been even better for the second year wing. Brown is averaging 23.7 PPG over the Boston Celtics last three contests on 58.6% shooting and a strong 50.0% clip from beyond the arc.
The three point shot was a big question for Brown coming out of California where he shot just 29.4% from distance in his first and only year of college basketball. But he shot 34.1% with the Celtics as a rookie last season and he’s now up to 40.2% this year.
It’s starting to seem pretty clear that Ainge made the best possible move for his team back on draft night in 2016. There were a number of other players that fans would have preferred, so we’ll look back at the rest of the top ten from this draft and see where Brown currently stacks up against everyone.
Dragan Bender (4th overall, Phoenix Suns)
Bender had a really weird rookie year. He scored ten points in just 11 minutes of playing time during his NBA debut and proceeded to not score a single point for the next three games, when he was removed from the rotation. After spending the next three contests as just a spectator, Bender came out and dropped another ten points in his return to action. The Croatian big man proceeded to do this all year. He appeared in 43 games throughout his rookie campaign, scoring in double figures nine times while being held scoreless in 14 of them. Bender has played – and scored – in every game for the Suns so far this season, averaging 5.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 0.7 BPG with an average of 21.1 minutes per night. To compare that to a current Celtic, rookie center Daniel Theis is averaging 4.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 0.9 BPG with an average of just 12.2 minutes per game so far this year.
Kris Dunn (5th overall, Minnesota Timberwolves)
His rookie campaign wasn’t too inspiring and Minnesota packaged him along with Zach LaVine to get Jimmy Butler on draft night in 2017. Dunn is now seeing a spike in playing time this year while coming off the bench for the 3-11 Chicago Bulls, averaging 11.7 PPG on 43.3% shooting to go along with 4.7 RPG and 4.0 RPG. The improved play is good to see, but age factored in to how a lot of people saw Dunn as he’ll be 24-years old by the end of the regular season. By compression, Jaylen Brown turned 21-years old in October and current Celtics point guard Marcus Smart – who is in his fourth NBA season – will turn 24 as well just four days before the second year pro Dunn will. There’s still a lot that the former Providence star can improve on, but it’s possible that he becomes one of those players who spends his career putting up a respectable stat line while bouncing around on bad teams, almost like Devin Harris has done.
Buddy Hield (6th overall, New Orleans Pelicans)
Like Dunn, Hield is also on his second team. The Pelicans used him as a chip in the DeMarcus Cousins trade and he’s now with the Sacramento Kings. Hield had been struggling in New Orleans, but the trade seemed to be a good move for him as he averaged 15.1 PPG on 48.0% shooting in 25 appearances for the Kings last season. He was an opening night starter for Sacramento this year, but he was shooting under 40% from the field and just 26.2% from beyond the arc through seven games and they moved him to the bench. The former Big 12 Player of the Year has found his shooting stroke off the bench though, as he’s 48.7% over the last eight games with an incredible 56.3% mark from three. There’s no doubt that he can be one of the league’s elite sharp shooters, but there still isn’t much else to his game and a role player off the bench might be the best he’ll be able to do with his career if he wants to play for a playoff caliber team.
Jamal Murray (7th overall, Denver Nuggets)
Murray joined Jaylen Brown as a Second Team All-Rookie selection last year when he averaged 9.9 PPG for the Denver Nuggets and – like Brown – he’s shown solid signs of improvement so far in year two. He’s taken the starting point guard job away from Emmanuel Mudiay – who Denver used the seventh overall pick on just a year earlier – and his scoring average is up to 14.1 per game with a solid bump in field goal percentage to go along with it. The improved play of Murray – along with some key offseason additions such as Paul Millsap – has gone a long way in making Denver a competitive team in the Western Conference. While Bender, Dunn and Hield are all still stuck on some of basketball’s worst teams, the Nuggets are sitting at sixth place in the conference with a 10-7 record.
Marquese Chriss (8th overall, Phoenix Suns)
Many analysts dubbed the Suns as “winners” on draft night after they came away with Bender and Chriss, but that really hasn’t panned out too well for them so far. Chriss averaged 9.2 PPG last season and was named Second Team All-Rookie, but it seems like the 20-year old power forward has taken a step back in year two. His shooting percentage is down to just 40.2% and his scoring average has dropped to 6.7 PPG, which has all caused him to see a reduction in minutes from last season to now. If there is one positive, his defense has been improving. Chriss averaged 0.8 BPG last season and he’s up to 1.3 per game this year, even with the reduced minutes.
Jakob Poeltl (9th overall, Toronto Raptors)
It was clear that Brown’s minutes with the Celtics last year were handcuffed because he was drafted by a really good team that had depth at his position and the same can be said for Poeltl. He played in just 54 games last season with an average of just 11.6 minutes per game, but he’s found a more consistent role in the Raptors rotation this year. While Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka still hold down the starting positions in Toronto’s strong frontcourt, Poeltl has seemingly passed Lucas Nogueira on the depth chart to earn a regular, consistent role as the primary backup center. He’s playing 14.9 minutes per game with an average 6.2 PPG on 65.7% shooting, 4.8 RPG and 1.1 BPG.
Thon Maker (10th overall, Milwaukee Bucks)
One of the more questioned picks of round one because nobody was sure of his actual age, Maker averaged 4.0 PPG and 2.0 RPG over 57 appearances as a rookie. Like Hield, he started the first seven games of this season before moving to the bench after struggling out of the gate. He’s currently averaging 4.3 PPG and 3.3 RPG, but his shooting percentage this year is down to just 37.9% after it sat at 45.9% during his rookie campaign. Maker might still be struggling to adjust to the NBA, but one future Hall of Famer gave him a giant endorsement the other day. Kevin Garnett said in an interview with Bleacher Report that Maker will one day be the MVP of the league, which is bold because Giannis Antetokounmpo will make it tough to even be MVP of the Milwaukee Bucks.