LAS VEGAS — General manager Danny Ainge has a track record of surprising the NBA landscape with his first-round picks, and that trend continued in June when the Boston Celtics selected Jaylen Brown third overall.
The 6'7" California wing was projected to go outside the top five by most respected mock drafts, including DraftExpress and Bleacher Report. However, Brown's athleticism and work ethic caught the eye of the Celtics brass during a pair of workouts in Boston. So did his improved shooting from three-point range after hitting just 29.4 percent (30-of-102) from distance during his sole collegiate season.
Ultimately, Ainge saw enough promise to roll the dice on the raw 19-year-old prospect for a 48-win, Eastern Conference semifinalist that's ready to make a deep playoff push.
The question Celtics fans are rightfully wondering: How much can the versatile wing contribute right away? He fills a need at small forward with the departure of Evan Turner, but after an up-and-down summer league, he still has to earn the trust of the team's coaching staff.
"Time will tell," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said this week in Las Vegas. "He's 19. The bottom line is I'm watching a lot of the 19-year-olds get more comfortable as the games go on, but none of them are knocking people's socks off right out of the gate. Obviously he's got a great deal of talent. He's got a great deal to learn to be effective at this level, and we'll see. Time will tell."
Bleacher Report caught up with Brown during summer league for an exclusive interview to learn more about the draft process that led him to the Celtics, the pressures of being the No. 3 pick, how well he has connected with Stevens and more.
Bleacher Report: You kind of surprised everyone by going No. 3, but is that something you were striving for in the draft process?
Jaylen Brown: I was just being myself. When they called me for a second workout, I knew that it was a possibility, but I had no idea. I knew I'd been playing good in the workout, so I knew I was probably better than everybody in this draft class. I wanted to keep working and show what I could do. I guess my upside carried me over.
I thought I worked out pretty well, but you never know. This is an unsure process, so I wasn't quite sure. I know GMs have to do a lot of homework for a lot of decisions they have to make. At the end of the day, I wasn't really stressing over it. I was confident in my ability with every team I went to. I'm just glad it happened to be the Celtics.
B/R: There was lot of trade talk on draft night, and I'm sure you're in the green room in New York waiting. Were you aware of those rumors floating around? How confident were you that you'd stay as a Celtic after you heard your name announced?
JB: I really wasn't paying attention to it to be honest. I was confident in my ability, and I was happy to be drafted where I was drafted. Whatever team I ended up...I didn't hear anything about trade rumors. I was just happy that somebody believed in me enough.
That's all it was about. I wasn't thinking about the logistics and the analytics of it. I was just confident in myself and confident in what I can do. I have a skill set, and I can get the job done anywhere.
B/R: Whether it was draft night or just playing in the Pac-12, there's a lot of pressure you must deal with. What do you do to deal with that both on the floor and off the floor?
JB: I welcome it. I invite it. Pressure builds diamonds.
B/R: Do you talk to other people, like coaches and former players, when considering moving to the next level? What are your strategies in trying to handle it?
JB: Yeah. I've got a group of people. The Celtics staff are really supportive behind me. They want me to be the best I can be. All I have to do is keep being myself, have high character, keep continuing to work. I love being in the gym, I love being around people who love to work too and are passionate. That's all it is, just keep working.
B/R: There are high expectations for you and this team; do you embrace being thrown into the fire like that?
JB: Rome wasn't built in a day. Just take my time and be patient. I'm really happy to be where I am. The Celtics support me a lot and have a lot of good people that teach. It's all a learning experience for me. Every day I just want to get better and see where that takes me.
B/R: What are your personal goals for your rookie season beyond the team perspective? What parts of your game do you want to see advance?
JB: Just get better from last year. That's what it's about, just getting better every day. Defensively, mentally, physically, everywhere—just try to develop as much as possible. I feel like in a few years I'll be really good.
B/R: You had said during summer league that the space in the NBA is already so much different than in college. Can you explain what that does for your game? You've already seemed to take advantage with 17 free throws in your first summer-league game*.
JB: I didn't expect to shoot 17 free throws, but I knew I was going to be aggressive. If all else fails, be aggressive. I knew I was going to get to the basket a number of times, and they just happened to foul me. There's a lot of space and open court; there's a lot of space in the half court.
That was just about me making the right decisions, making the right read. There's too much space out there. My first step is really quick. It opens a lot up for me.
In college, they sit in a zone sometimes or they pack the paint. In the NBA, it's different. The court's more square. You've got better shooters and better players. It's a little bit harder to do that. It makes the game a little bit more fun for me because I can get to the basket pretty much anytime I want.
*Brown shot 17 more free throws against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.
B/R: It was a tough year shooting from the three-point line for you at Cal, but the Celtics are confident with your workouts that you've improved and that you can continue to grow from there. Is it just reps in the gym, or do you have a specific coach you work with on that skill?
JB: Just reps in the gym and getting up a lot of shots. I continue to work and focus. It's not about how many shots that you shoot; it's about the focus while you're shooting. I paid attention to that more so in this process.
B/R: You're known as a high-IQ guy. Knowing Stevens' reputation, what were the meetings like with him during the draft process? He said you guys went to lunch at one point. What did you talk about there? What have you learned so far about the schemes?
JB: It's just great being around somebody like that. I think just because maybe we think kind of the same way, we get along really well. Anything Brad says I just try to soak up. He has a lot to offer, and I just want to learn from him. Brad is a very intelligent guy who I have so much to learn from, so that's what I do.
B/R: Have you been able to see much of Boston yet? Are you excited to explore? You've taken some graduate classes—are you going to tap into some of the schools in the area to explore advancing your education further?
JB: For sure. When I was in Boston, we were doing the camp and getting ready for summer league, so I haven't gotten to see as much of it as I'd like. I went down to Quincy Market, which was pretty nice. It was pretty cool. I definitely want to get out and see some things.
I already talked with coach Tommy Amaker at Harvard. He said I'm welcome to come up and visit anytime. He's a good guy, and I told him we'll get together or something like that.
It's a nice area. I want to get out and just explore and see what it's about. Venture out, meet some people, find some good food restaurants and maybe a driving range.