ORLANDO — Less than three minutes into the Celtics’ preseason win against the Magic on Friday night, Jaylen Brown took possession near the top of the key and made a quick move past Evan Fournier before finishing with a lefthanded layup.
One minute after that, Brown darted past Fournier once more, again using his left hand to convert more of a scooping circus shot that skimmed high off the backboard before going in. After that one, the righthanded Brown held his left hand in the air, as if to make sure everyone had noticed.
Brown said that developing a more consistent left hand was a focus of his summer training, and he was quick to caution that these games are not real yet, but he is pleased with the results so far.
“I definitely worked on that,” he said after Friday’s 100-75 win. “I worked hard on being able to be balanced on both sides of the court so I can drive right hand and drive left the same way, so I put in a lot of effort into it and it’s nice to see some go down in the preseason. But it’s just preseason. I’ve just got to keep working. We’ll see.”
It seems that Brown’s development as a skillful finisher will be essential this season if the Celtics are to take a place among the league’s elite despite so many high-profile departures. He had perhaps the highlight-reel drive of the game when he burst free on a fast break late in the second quarter and slid the ball between his legs on the run before converting a tough layup on his strong side.
Brown said that if he can keep defenses honest with moves to his left, it will make his powerful right hand even more dangerous.
“It just opens up the floor a little more and gives you more opportunity,” he said. “Instead of always going to your right, you go to the left, too. Just adds more versatility, adds more options, adds more vision to your game.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that the increased versatility to Brown’s offensive game, including his dexterity, passing, and awareness — have made him more of a threat attacking the rim.
“I think coming out of college he didn’t finish as well maybe that year as some would have expected,” Stevens said. “But we didn’t even really think he’d have trouble finishing when it was all said and done. He’s so strong and gets up really high.
“But his initial dribble in a pick-and-roll where he has to keep a guy on his back and handle it and read the defense in front of him, and his ability to pass has made all that stuff better. So he’s really opened up a lot more at the rim when you can make a bunch of plays with the ball.”
Brown’s athleticism was never in question, but his skills as a playmaker have been cloudy during his career.
Last season his 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was the worst among Boston’s regulars, as was his 9.6 assist percentage, a metric that measures the percent of the team’s assists a player accounts for while he is on the court.
Brown’s improved passing drew some attention during the FIBA World Cup, and he continues to show that he is capable of making strong reads and smooth plays as a distributor when needed.
At the start of Friday’s game, before he’d unveiled his two crafty lefthanded drives, Brown once again carved through the lane, and when his progress was stalled, he jumped, double-pumped, and fired a crisp pass to Daniel Theis beyond the arc. Theis then flung another pass to Marcus Smart for an open 3-pointer.
On a later play, Brown led the break and subtly left the ball for a trailing Gordon Hayward for a two-handed slam.
“Making the right reads keeps the defense off balance so they don’t know what you’re going to do when you catch the ball,” Brown said. “So, that’s always good. It’s a long journey ahead, but I think I’m just getting started.”