BERKELEY -- In UC Berkeley's last home game, the crowd's desperation for likely one-and-done freshman Jaylen Brown to give them one final show was palpable. Brown delivered, scoring 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting to go with his eight rebounds and two blocks in 32 minutes against USC, powering the Bears to clinch a perfect 18-0 record at home.
Brown told reporters after the game that he was undecided on whether or not he would declare, but the game served was strong an argument as any for Brown's worthiness of being selected with the third-overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Most talent evaluators agree that the top two players in the 2016 class are Ben Simmons of LSU and Brandon Ingram of Duke in some order. Who is at the top of the next tier is largely undecided, and will be at least partially dependent on the needs of the team drafting.
If the Los Angeles Lakers are fortunate enough to keep their top-three protected first-round pick, they fit the bill as one team that could surely use Brown. With Kobe Bryant's retirement at the conclusion of their current season, the Lakers will have a gaping hole to fill on the wing. Brown is not and will never be Bryant, but that is a void the still-developing 6'7", 225 pound forward could fill. Like many young players, including the Lakers' own young core of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle, Brown is at his most lethal in transition.
"If he's coming at you full speed, it's hard to really get in front of him unless you foul him. You have to make a decision," said Berkeley head coach Cuonzo Martin following Cal's victory over USC, and Brown's opponents would be forced to nod begrudgingly.
The uber-athletic Brown is a pest defensively, with both the sturdiness to stifle post-ups from larger players without fouling and the quickness to stay in front of smaller players laterally. He is especially dangerous in passing lanes, and the home crowd is well trained enough that the noise in Haas Pavilion builds to a crescendo whenever the Berkeley defense generates a turnover. Brown is the first person his teammates look for when they have a chance for a run-out, if he did not swipe the ball himself, and more often than not he can make something happen:
When defenses are panicked and scrambling, Brown is able to use his superior burst and nose for the rim to get to the basket with ease, as he did on the play above against Washington. He can also use his crossover to weave through defenders like they were traffic cones before leaving nothing to chance and finishing with spectacular power for such a young player:
Brown is quick with the ball as well, able to fly nearly the full length of the court in under 3.8 seconds before finishing with a buzzer-beating layup to give himself 15 points in the first half against USC on Sunday:
Brown has mostly looked to score for himself on his forays to the rim this year, averaging just two assists per game despite using 31.8 percent of the Bears' possessions while on the floor, according to Sports Reference. Some of this is due to Cal's offense looking clogged at times when playing two bigs and Brown, as well as the fact that he is often asked to finish plays towards the end of the clock as a slasher or on the break. The freshman phenom is capable of making quick reads to find teammates in transition, such as on this play against USC:
Those types of off-the-dribble bounce passes through rapidly closing windows demonstrate Brown's potential as a playmaker, and are exactly the types of quick decisions he will need to make to succeed at the NBA level. With Clarkson, Russell, and Randle all able to push pace by handling the ball, anyone playing alongside them ideally must be able to work as a finisher in fastbreak situations. Brown definitively ticks that box:
While he may do his best work in transition, Bown is capable of scoring in halfcourt sets as well, mainly on drives to the rim. He mostly uses his quick first step to score or draw free throws, and has an impressive ability to collect his dribble and finish in traffic:
He is also starting to develop a spin move as a counter when these pell-mell attacks are cut off:
The major flaw in Brown's game, especially when attempting to project how good he can be at the next level, is his three-point shooting. Brown is connecting on just 30.1 percent of his three-pointers this season, and while he went a promising three-of-seven from range against USC on Sunday and his shot does not look fundamentally broken, his lack of shooting substantially lowers his ceiling if it never comes around.
As things stand, Brown profiles as exactly the type of defensively versatile wing that every NBA team pines for, but if he can become at least an average three-point shooter, he holds potential to be a devastating two-way star. Even without it, he could still be an effective player on both ends, especially on a team that can help him generate turnovers and get out and run.
With the Lakers' most glaring needs being at small forward and center, there is no reason Brown shouldn't be a heavy consideration to take over at the former spot should they receive the third-overall pick. While he is still a notch below Simmons and Ingram, Brown would be a more than worthy consolation prize and a definite asset as the team moves forward in its rebuild.
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