Welcome to “Summer Workout Plan,” our annual offseason series in which we dive into a specific area for improvement for certain players to take the next step in their development.
Our next player to take the spotlight is Celtics All-Star guard Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics came up just short of an NBA title this past season and the truth is, it can’t help but feel like they shot themselves in the foot.
The greatness of Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ experience on the NBA Finals stage are two aspects that certainly deserve plenty of credit, but Boston’s penchant for forcing things on offense and turning the ball over was undoubtedly its Achilles heel throughout the entire playoffs.
As the Celtics look to learn from last season’s mistakes and make another run for Banner 18 next season, it all starts with the continued development of their stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
MORE: What Tatum, Brown can learn from Durant, Westbrook
And for Brown, his biggest area of improvement is his ball-handling.
If Brown wants to take another step as a first scoring option, it’s going to start with tightening his handle to cut back on turnovers.
This past season, Brown had a career-high in total turnovers (178) and matched his career-worst turnovers per game average (2.7). In the playoffs, Tatum (100) was the only player who tallied more turnovers than Brown (74).
Granted, Brown’s usage rate was also at a career-high, which plays a factor in his increase in giveaways. Many of his turnovers were avoidable as he would drive into traffic without a plan or have the ball poked loose while trying to get to his spots.
Brown had seven turnovers in two separate playoff games, and he also had five turnovers in Games 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals – all four contests resulted in losses for the Celtics.
It’s the plays like this…
…that could all be avoided with extra ball-handling work this offseason.
But with that being said, I do want to mention that Brown’s handle is nowhere near as bad as it is made out to be on NBA Twitter. And his growth as a ball-handler is night and day compared to when he first came into the league when he could hardly dribble or attack with his left hand.
Moves like this to create his own shot…
…he simply did not have in his bag until the last couple of seasons, showing signs that he’s trending in the right direction.
And his improvement doesn’t have to be drastic, either. No one is expecting Brown to come back next season with Kyrie Irving or Jamal Crawford-like handle.
MORE: Summer Workout Plan: What Trae Young can learn from Stephen Curry
That’s where I believe he can learn from a player like Kawhi Leonard, who had a very similar scouting report to Brown going into the NBA Draft.
I went back and read through both Brown and Leonard’s pre-draft scouting reports on DraftExpress and there was a lot of overlap between the two in regards to their handle and shot creation.
“Loose handle” and “mechanical issues as a ball-handler” are two things that were said of Brown.
“Average ball-handler,” “struggled to create shots effectively,” and “if (he) ever develops into a more reliable isolation threat, improving his left hand should be among his top priorities” are all things that were said of Leonard.
In two of the last three seasons Leonard played, he was among the most efficient iso scorers in the entire league.
Kawhi won’t wow you with an insane dribble package or quick-twitch shiftiness, but he’s mastered the art of dribbling efficiency, keeping the ball on a string while relying more on his strength to get to his spots and rise up.
Brown (6-6, 223 lbs.) has a similar frame as Leonard (6-7, 225 lbs.), and there’s no reason he can’t be as physical with the ball in his hands. It’s something that Celtics head coach Ime Udoka preached to Brown during the playoffs, telling him he needed to be stronger with the ball to cut back on turnovers.
One thing you’ll notice when watching Leonard: he pounds the ball into the ground with every dribble. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but his handle is confident and compact and that’s all he needs to score effectively and efficiently.
It took Kawhi nearly seven seasons to become the shot creator he is today, and while part of that was because of a limited offensive role behind the Big 3 in San Antonio early on, it goes to show even the most talented players need some time to fine-tune every aspect of their game.
As Brown enters his seventh season in the league, he’ll have aspirations of making his second All-Star team and leading the Celtics back to the NBA Finals. The first step to checking both of those boxes is working on his ball-handling to become an even more dynamic offensive threat than he already is.