You know the old cliché that every good team needs grizzled veterans to help out the young kids? Well, it’s harped on for a reason.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan provided a great example as it relates to Jaylen Brown on Friday in an excellent feature on the Boston Celtics guard.
Brown is thriving in the playoffs after a solid regular season, but his rookie campaign had far more bumps in the road. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft averaged just 17.2 minutes per game in 2016-17 and struggled defensively at times, opening him up to criticism on head coach Brad Stevens’ defense-minded club.
Some 20-year-old rookies wouldn’t handle that adversity well. But an unlikely Celtic helped him stay on the right path: journeyman Gerald Green.
“Jaylen didn’t know the (defensive) rotations,” Green told MacMullan. “The guys would get on him. I pulled Jaylen aside and told him, ‘They just want you to be better.’ To his credit, he didn’t say, ‘F— this, I don’t want to be everyone’s punching bag.’ Instead, he said, ‘OK, I understand.’ ”
Of course, that’s as much a testament to Brown’s coachability as it is Green’s leadership. The veteran wasn’t done imparting wisdom on his pupil, though.
After Stevens opted to start Green over Brown in the Celtics’ first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls — Brown played under three minutes combined in Games 3 and 4 and was a healthy scratch in Game 5 — Green stepped in again to keep Brown on track.
“The well-traveled veteran tugged at his teammate’s shoulders and told him, ‘You can be special. But you gotta grab that chance. It starts here. In practice.’ No more lapses, Green stressed. No more wasted possessions. And — most of all — no hanging your head.
“I’ve seen young guys break down in those situations,’ Green told MacMullan. “They’re cruising along, playing great, then their minutes get funky and they fall apart. Some of them never recover. That didn’t happen with Jaylen.”
It appears Green’s message resonated with Brown, who finally got his chance in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers — 29 combined points in Games 1 and 2 — and carried that confidence and success into the 2017-18 campaign.
“I know Gerald thinks, ‘Oh, that rookie probably doesn’t remember me,’ but I’ll never forget what (he) said to me — what he did for me,” Brown told MacMullan.
Green made a minimal impact on the stat sheet last season, averaging 11.4 minutes and 5.6 points per game. But his role in mentoring Brown is why NBA teams keep players like him around.
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