BOSTON (CBS) – Versatility is a trait that is quickly becoming highly desirable in players across the NBA, particularly at the forward spot. As more teams play smaller to help spread the floor offensively, the ability for wings to guard multiple positions is more essential than ever. Without that switching ability, stronger or faster opponents can expose a team regularly when they try to go small.
That philosophy played directly into the Celtics’ decision to take Jaylen Brown at No. 3 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. While Brown might not be able to help the team right away like some other lottery picks that were passed over, he has the size (6-foot-7) and strength (225 lbs) to hold his own at multiple positions.
At Wednesday’s training camp session, Brad Stevens elaborated on his philosophy when it comes to interchangeability and how Brown fits in on that front.
“We’ve always had our 4s know the 5, and vice versa,” he explained. “We want them to be as interchangeable as possible. The ideal situation would be when 2s and 3s could be in that situation, too, and vice versa. Right, when you’re 5 can play the 3, or the 4 can play the 3 or whatever the case may be. Now you’re completely interchangeable. That’s very very unique.
“Obviously each team that was in that in mix of teams to win it last year could go to that, if necessary, some more than others. Versatility is a big deal as we all know and we talk about quite a bit. It’s another reason why Jaylen was so highly thought of entering the league because he should be able to guard a number of different positions.”
The Celtics knew they were going to need help on the wing in June after Evan Turner had a big season that priced him out of Boston this offseason. Other young players like James Young haven’t showed the strength or defensive ability to be counted on in smaller lineups, making adding an athletic specimen like Brown a priority for Boston for added depth behind Jae Crowder.
The 19-year-old rookie has a sharp learning curve ahead of him to earn NBA minutes, but Stevens believes he’ll be able to handle some action as a small-ball 4 as the season progresses.
“I think the biggest thing in playing the wing or playing the 4,” Stevens continued, “is how much do you want to throw on him right now in the first day of training camp, right? At some point, you’ve got an idea of everything that’s going on around you but right now the biggest thing for all of our new guys — Jaylen, Al, Gerald — keep it as simple as possible so that you can be able to play basketball and do the things we need to do from a base standpoint. Then we’ll move forward after that.
“Obviously, Al and Gerald are much more advanced just because of their age and experience. But Jaylen will catch up. He’s really been enjoyable to be around. He really wants to be good. He’s thoughtful. He wants to work at it, all that stuff.”
Crowder echoed Stevens’ thoughts on taking things slow with the former Cal standout when it comes to the possibility of him handling multiple positions.
“I want him to get down [guarding] the 3 first,” Crowder explained. “Just get the technique of the 3 position before we start talking about him moving to another position. He’s a rookie and a lot has been thrown at him in just a day so I don’t want him to overthink anything. I know coach doesn’t want him to overthink, just react as much as possible. As time comes, I think he will be able to be a guy like myself who can switch and guard multiple people.”
Switching ability aside, Crowder is overall pleased with what he’s seen from the swingman so far in what should be a promising sign for Celtics fans at the start of training camp.
“He’s aggressive,” Crowder said of Brown. “You can’t tell him not to take a shot. He’s going to take it and he’s going to make or miss. He feels like he’s going to be aggressive and that’s a good step for a young player, to come into the league and be aggressive because a lot of people don’t come into the league with the confidence. He’s aggressive and I think that’s a good key for us.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.