Celtics laud rookie Jaylen Brown's potential after preseason debut

AMHERST, Mass. -- From the Boston Celtics' bench, Al Horford and Jae Crowder recognized what was about to happen a split second before the rest of their teammates and started to rise from their seats. Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown put Philadelphia 76ers forward Richaun Holmes on skates with a pump fake at the 3-point line during Tuesday's preseason opener and it quickly became obvious a loud finish was about to follow.

After being on the wrong side of Brown's raw athleticism during intrasquad scrimmages early in training camp, Boston's starters could simply savor the view as Brown drove hard into the paint, elevated, and delivered a tomahawk slam. By the time gravity finally hauled Brown back to the hardwood, the Celtics' entire bench had spilled onto the floor in celebration.

"He had the crowd going crazy, he had our bench going crazy. So that’s something he’s going to be good for doing," said Celtics second-year guard Terry Rozier. "He can jump out the gym. He’s very athletic. So he’s going to see a lot of minutes I feel this year.

"Once the game really slows down for him it’s going to be scary for a lot of people."

Brown's loud dunks would be notable on any team in the NBA, but watching the 19-year-old routinely fly at the rim during the infancy of his pro career is particularly eye-catching for a Boston team that hasn't had that sort of athleticism in recent seasons.

Brown, the No. 3 pick in June's draft declared at his introductory news conference that he was "ready to rip somebody's head off," and he backed up his enthusiasm with a series of rim-rattling dunks in summer league and training camp.

There's plenty of strides to be made for Brown to emerge as a consistent contributor for the Celtics, but it's not hard to see why president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Boston brass fell in love with Brown despite the statistical warning flags that suggested he was a risky pick at No. 3 in this year's draft.

Brown earned himself a spot on SportsCenter in the first half of Tuesday's game when he caught Sixers injury-delayed rookie Joel Embiid on a switch and attacked the basket. Brown tried a one-handed jam at the side of the rim, but it appeared to be partially deterred by the 7-foot-2 Embiid.

Brown made up for the near-miss in the second half with not only the tomahawk dunk, but also with a circus layup that he muscled home through traffic. When he drew a crowd on a late-game drive, Brown slipped a pass to teammate Jordan Mickey for a dunk that gave Boston a chance to force overtime.

Brown finished with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting with four rebounds and four assists over 20:40. The Celtics leaned on Brown as part of smaller lineups in the second half and he had some of his best moments while playing the power forward position. Horford liked what he saw from a player that's 11 years younger than Boston's summer splurge.

"I felt like Jaylen was very impressive," said Horford. "His body and his ability to play multiple positions, it’s gonna be real helpful for us. And he felt very comfortable at the 4. He looked good."

The Celtics found success last season shuffling Crowder to the 4 and, given that Crowder has taken Brown under his wing, he'll get plenty of advice on how to thrive when giving up size at the power forward spot.

For his part, Brown is embracing any position that gets him on the floor.

"I’m comfortable at the 4. I’m comfortable wherever coach needs me to play," said Brown. "It’s part of being versatile. Part of versatility is being ready when someone calls your name. You're a rookie. So you can’t really have no excuses or be like, 'No, I don’t want to play at the 4.' If he wants me to play at the 4, I’m down."

Even as he develops his shot, it is clear Brown does his best work around the basket. Brad Stevens plans to utilize not only Brown's NBA-ready body and but his fearlessness to play around the basket.

"Even in the NBA, when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be a powerful [player], one of the better athletes, right? Especially on drives," said Stevens. "He’s a hard guy, when he hits you, not to fall back a little. I think that, again, you have to kinda pick your spots of who you’re playing against, but certainly his athleticism is a huge plus. So that’s why we’ve emphasized with him make the open catch-and-shoot shots and learn where you drive and cuts are. Because drives and cuts, and some post-ups, are going to be a good place for him."