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  • Matt Esposito

Will Kemba Walker’s Arrival Impact Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s Development?

The Undefeated

A couple of week ago, John Karalis of the Locked on Celtics podcast pondered the ramifications of a possible Kemba Walker addition. Would Walker impinge upon the pick and roll opportunities many Boston fans want Jayson Tatum to gain experience in? Would he solidify Jaylen Brown’ role as a hyper-athletic 3 & D wing? Or, does Celtic brass envision Brown becoming more of a shot-creator and if so, can he improve that skill alongside Walker?

Fortunately, nerds like me can attempt to solve this problem. Better yet, I can try and project how the season will play out and determine if growth opportunities await this talented duo. But how can I accomplish this goal?

For their own improvement, Tatum and Brown will need a higher usage rate (USG%.) This means that they will need more chances at either scoring the ball or getting to the line. The logic is simple. For Tatum to development as a pick and roll ballhandler, or for Brown to practice his shot-creation skill set, both of these players will need to see an uptick scoring opportunities.

Last season, Jaylen had a USG% of 22.1. This means that while Brown was on the floor, 22.1 percent of the teams plays resulted in him either shooting the ball, turning it over, or earning free throws. Considering Brown moved to the second unit during November of last season, this indicates that he was a focal point of that unit.

Tatum’s USG% was identical to Brown’s. For all intents and purposes, Brown and Tatum finished tied for the second highest USG% on the team last year, behind Kyrie Irving. While many believe Tatum stagnated in his growth, Brown saw a resurgence in the second half of the year and restored belief in his star potential.

Why am I focusing on USG% this much? I decided to research the percentages of some All-Star players with comparable build or skill set to Brown and Tatum. I found each of their respective USG%s of their first nominal year of All-Star play. Additionally, I gathered the USG% of their respective point guards during that time. Hopefully, we can pinpoint an ideal USG% for both Brown and Tatum to target in order for them to reach their lofty ceilings.

The players researched: Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Paul George and George Hill, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. The results are below.

Upon first glance, there is a trend. For three of these pairings, the forward/wing All-Star posted a USG% above the 22.1 mark that both Brown and Tatum hit last year. What about Butler? Although he was named an All-Star in 2014-15, he became the caliber of player we currently know him as during his following seasons. His USG% has been significantly higher since; a trend common among his peers.

PG13 has averaged a USG% of 28.6 since his first All-Star birth. Leonard has averaged a rate of 30.7 since then, Butler a rate of 24.6 and DeRozan a rate of 30.1. The trend becomes clearer. For Brown or Tatum to develop into All-Star talents – something many believe to be achievable –they must have a USG% of at least 25.0. But, is this possible given the makeup of the Celtics roster?

Last season Walker had a USG% of 31.5 and has never dipped below 25.2 for his entire career. It is fair to assume he will remain at or above that number. Let’s theorize for a moment and suggest that Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens want Tatum and Brown to reach that 25.0 mark as well. Is this feasible? Did any team last year have three mainstay players who put up a USG% of at least 25.0?

Yes. Two teams did this (more on one of them later.) I will mention one of them now. The New Orleans Pelicans saw Julius Randle, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis achieve this feat. Some teams came close. The Bulls had some guys qualify but they never played on the team at the same time. Same goes for the Knicks and Kings.

In other words, having Brown, Tatum and Walker each average a USG% of 25.0 or greater is unlikely, but possible. What makes it more unlikely, however, is the continual restoration of Gordon Hayward. Entering the second playing season of his recovery process, Hayward could look more like the man we saw in Utah. How will that impact the Js development?

Remember that other team I did not mention? It may be time to. Hayward’s USG% during his All-Star season for the Jazz was 27.6. The two seasons prior to that, where Hayward was a borderline All-Star talent, he averaged a rate of 26.0. Could it be possible to have four players each at that 25.0 mark?

Essentially, no. The only team to do it last year was the Golden State Warriors. The players were DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. For just shy of 300 minutes they took the floor together and the results were pretty good.

But what can we learn from this? The odds of each of Brown, Tatum, Walker and Hayward reaching that 25.0 USG% mark is remarkably low. Something has to give, but what?

I think we can lock in Walker to meet that USG%. Steven’s starting point guards typically do. Plus, Walker is at the peak of his shot-creation and rim-attacking powers right now. This would be good for the Cs. Additionally, I believe Tatum will make the leap. With any luck, Steven and Ainge’s directive to get to the line more frequently will be heeded by Tatum. He is the most coveted prospect on this team, and I expect him to be put into a position to make the jump into an All-Star player.

That leaves us with Brown and Hayward. If Hayward appears to be 90 percent of his former self, then he could be the candidate here. Yet, there is an argument to be made for Brown. He found his groove once removed from the starting lineup (and rumored foe Kyrie Irving.) In fact, he played some of the best hoops of his career once this happened. Brown could be the longer-term plan in Boston and deserving of the possessions needed to hit this rate.

My thoughts? There is a world where Tatum, Walker and Brown get to the 25.0 rate. Doing this would signal that the progress of younger players is the priority. The Celtics can do this while still competing for a high playoff seed. After all, Brown was a much better player than Hayward last year.

What’s more, Brown’s best basketball came while hitting a 24.6 USG% during the 2017-18 playoffs. He put up 18, 4.8 and 1.4 while sinking 46 percent of his field goals and 39 percent of his triples. Oh, and he did this at the age of 21 while competing against either Giannis or LeBron.

An adept pick and roll playmaker and passer, Hayward could be used as a facilitator in staggered second units. Doing this would temper his USG% and in return it could get a costar like Brown or Tatum the shots they need. Still, this is unlikely.

The numbers suggest that only two of these guys will put up the 25.0 USG%. Tatum and Walker are my choices. If true, expect Tatum to remind us all why he turned so many heads as a rookie. This does not mean Brown will suffer, however. He can still build off of last year’s second half but his progress may be stunted a bit. Hayward can continue to get better too. These two should be around the 23.0 rate.

Regardless, many hoped for both Js to take the next major step forward. Although they both will grow, expect only one of them to take a bigger step than the other.

#Celtics #MattEsposito

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