We’ve officially hit that point in the NBA season where a large percentage of fans are thinking about next season.
If your team is outside of the playoff picture, you’re thinking about the potential 2023-24 playoff picture. Sure, you love the sport. You’ll watch the playoffs - maybe you pick a team to adopt until the final buzzer tolls. Still, your heart is wandering.
Rockets fans are no exception. Recently, some have found their hearts wandering toward Beantown.
Jaylen Brown won’t be a Boston Celtic forever. Is that a fair claim to make? It feels like the writing is on the wall. It’s in all caps and bolded:
“I AM LEAVING”.
There was already speculation. Brown found his name in trade rumors when the Rockets were moving James Harden. He found his name in trade rumors again when the Nets were forced to move Kevin Durant. With that said, none of that amounted to Brown’s recent comments about the city of Boston.
He doesn’t like it. We’ll get into that more a bit later. For now, there are three pertinent questions:
Would Brown like Houston? Can the Rockets afford to trade for him? Should they want to?
Let’s answer them in reverse order.
Should the Rockets acquire Brown?
Brown is a somewhat complicated player.
In some circles, he’s seen as wildly overrated. Others would claim the opposite, and say that Brown doesn’t get his due. He’s polarizing as a basketball player.
Aggregate metrics don’t look kindly on him. At the same time, a deep dive into Brown’s standing in various aggregate metrics may point to the futility of aggregate metrics themselves. In that sense, Brown is a poster boy for the eye test.
In 2022-23, Brown ranks 67th in Win Shares (WS). The three players ranked directly ahead of him are Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane and Malcolm Brogdon. The two players immediately behind him are LeBron James and Dwight Powell.
Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) paints a similar picture. Brown ranks 48th. Aaron Gordon and Chris Paul are directly ahead of him, with D’Angelo Russell, Kevon Looney and Jaren Jackson Jr. right behind him.
Let’s look at RAPTOR. He’s ranked 107th. He’s in the same neighborhood as Matisse Thybulle, Coby White, and Pascal Siakam.
Oh! This is why people hate these metrics. This is NBA player mad libs. No matter how many letters compose the acronym that your metric is named for, you are not going to convince me that Coby White and Pascal Siakam are comparable NBA players.
Of course, these numbers are known to be imperfect. They account for time missed, they don’t account for a lot of context, etc. I’m not saying they’re useless, but I can’t say that they're coloring my perception of Brown as a basketball player in any particular way.
B-Ball Index’s stats give us a lot more nuance and context.
What is Brown supposed to be? He’s supposed to be an elite shot-creating wing/guard who doubles as a solid point-of-attack defender. According to Index, that’s basically exactly who he is.
(Note: all of the following percentiles are among all qualified NBA starters).
Brown lands in the 91st percentile in their Finishing Talent metric. He grades out in the 92.7th percentile in their Self-Created Shot Making metric. In Rim Shot Creation, he’s in the 93.6th percentile.
Oddly, he’s only in the 81.7th percentile in Overall Shot Creation. Perhaps that’s explained by his 63.1st percentile Overall Shot Quality ranking. Brown takes tough shots, and he makes them at a decent clip. It seems likely that he’s stronger at creating unassisted dunks and layups than he is at creating unassisted jumpers.
I’ll keep it brief in regards to Brown’s defense. It feels like he coasts through the regular season and turns it up in the playoffs. His overall record as a defender is mixed.
If there’s a convincing argument against the Rockets acquiring Brown, it’s that he’s not a great playmaker. Surprisingly, he’s in Index’s 91.9th percentile in Passing Creation Quality. That seems like a function of the attention he draws, and the easy passing reads it provides.
Otherwise, Index tells us what we knew about Brown as a passer. He’s in the 63.3rd percentile in Passing Efficiency, and the 33.2nd in Passing Versatility.
In other words, Brown’s offensive profile isn’t dissimilar from Jalen Green’s. Perhaps they’re redundant. I don’t think that’s a significant concern. The Rockets could offset that issue by maximizing Alperen Sengun as a passing hub, or otherwise acquiring a point guard who distributes effectively.
On that note...
Can the Rockets afford Brown?
From a pure asset perspective, I am 100 percent sure the Rockets can afford Brown.
Let’s start from an extreme and work backward. If the Rockets put Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason, the rights to draft Victor Wembanyama and all of the Brooklyn picks on the table, yes, they could acquire Jaylen Brown.
Of course, that would be the worst move in NBA history.
The relevant question is whether the Rockets can afford to acquire Brown at a cost that’s not overly prohibitive. I still think that, depending on where their pick lands, the answer is yes.
We should assume that Green and Smith Jr. are off the table. I just besmirched the compound metrics. Still, you don’t trade a recent lottery pick for a guy that doesn’t rank in the NBA’s top 30 by any of those measures.
We should also assume that our upcoming pick is off the table if it lands top two. At least, we should pray that it is.
With that in mind, I think Houston’s pick in the 2023 draft if it conveys third through fifth, one of either Alperen Sengun or Tari Eason, Kevin Porter Jr., and a couple of Brooklyn picks is commensurate value for Brown. Different Rockets fans will draw the line at one of Sengun, Eason, or Porter Jr. - that’s fine.
What I don’t want to see in the comments (please, I beg you) is “why would Boston want that package?”. They wouldn’t. Allow me to introduce you to the concept of three-team deals. The Rockets would need a suitor that’s looking to build from the ground up to facilitate the deal.
My personal favorite candidate is the Toronto Raptors. Say they send the Celtics OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet in a sign-and-trade. They take back the aforementioned Rockets package. The Raptors love big playmakers - they may be infatuated with Amen Thompson. There is a framework here.
I think it should work for the Rockets too. This is a 26-year-old elite shot creator. Personally, I do find Amen Thompson very intriguing, but if it’s true that the Rockets are in Wembanyama, Henderson, Miller, or bust mode, landing Brown would be a great outcome.
As long as he’s the right person for the locker room, of course.
Is Brown the right man for this job?
I’ll be taking a hardline here. There is no good reason to assume that Brown is a locker room concern.
Firstly, Brown isn’t just smart. He turned down a NASA internship. Google it. This guy is one of the brightest people in the NBA.
I think some misperceptions of his character have emerged out of his support for Kyrie Irving. Frankly, that’s bogus.
Logan Murdock of the Ringer reported that Brown “(believed) Irving’s punishment was unjust, not because he agreed with the contents of the film, but because the suspension violated the collective bargaining agreement”.
Kyrie Irving posted a video with a Hitler quote on social media. Brown did his job as the vice president of the player’s union. Why is Brown the vice president of the player’s union? In all likelihood, because he’s a born leader.
Brown has given no indication that he’s anti-Semitic. He does seem to be fairly pro-black. If you’ve got a problem with that, might I suggest removing yourself from the basketball space? Hockey is right there.
Brown says he’s having trouble buying a house in Boston. He’s far from the first black athlete to make those sorts of claims about that city. It’s not really my place to comment. I’m not black, and I’ve never been to Boston. For that matter, I’ve never been to Houston:
But to my understanding, Brown could find a home there.