Where Does Jaylen Brown Rank as a Wing in the Current NBA?

Brown has out-performed expectations so far this season, but it got me thinking about how good he currently is compared to other players and how many wing players I would rather have than Brown moving forward.

He plays guard because of his quickness, but his ideal position is more off-ball than on-ball. For that reason, I will be comparing him to more “wing” type players than “guard” type players. If the way I determine this seems fuzzy, it’s because positions in the NBA are fuzzy. Largely, I took the “small forwards” from the ESPN database for comparison.

The group that Brown at his best would be lucky to attain to …

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, Jimmy Butler, and Kevin Durant. 

I like Brown. Although he has comparable athleticism to some of the guys on that list, his ball skills are seriously lacking compared to those guys.

The group of other young guys that are trying to ascend the ranks:

Stanley Johnson, Dillon Brooks, Og Anunoby, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre Jr., Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Taurean Prince. 

No other guy on this list has shown as much two-way potential as Brown. He is averaging more points than any player on that list, and is also arguably the best athlete of any player in that list, considering size, strength, length, explosiveness, and agility. Though he is not a rookie, he is also the third youngest player on the list to Jackson (by 5 months) and OG Anunoby (by 15 months), which means he has plenty of upside potential left.

The group that Brown has already surpassed:

Jerami Grant, Darius Miller, Thabo Sefalosa, Kyle Anderson, Doug McDermott, Chandler Parsons, Denzel Valentine, Norman Powell, CJ Miles, Wilson Chandler, Joe Ingles, Jeff Green, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Michael Beasley, Rudy Gay, Trevor Ariza, Josh Richardson, Demare Carroll, Robert Covington, and Bojan Bogdonavic. 

All of the players listed above are already averaging less than Jaylen Brown as a scorer this season. On top of that, he is at least comparable, if not clearly better than any of them on defense. And he is the youngest on the list with the highest upside. And he is the best athlete of any on the list. Brown has already surpassed everyone on this list.

(Robert Covington’s inclusion on this list instead of the next was not meant as a slight. He could go in either one. After I got done writing this article, I considered moving him down, but did not want to rewrite the next section. Besides, although Covington is a dangerously streaky shooter and a good defender, Brown is a comparable defender, is younger, and is more athletic. He also has more potential as a scorer.)

 

Currently in his tier:

Brandon Ingram, Tobias Harris, Andrew Wiggins, Evan Fournier, Harrison Barnes, Otto Porter Jr., Jayson Tatum, TJ Warren, and Khris Middleton. 

Let’s go through some of the most important attributes for a wing and see how Brown ranks.

  • Brown is clearly the best defender of the group (1/10)
  • Brown is the best athlete of the group (1/10). Although Wiggins is explosive, he is notorious for not being able to harness his athleticism into basketball plays, and he is not nearly as strong as Brown.
  • Brown is the third youngest (3/10) to Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum.
  • Brown is the fifth best shooter (5/10) to Harris, Fournier, Tatum, and Porter, but is clearly a better shooter than Wiggins or Warren.
  • Brown is the fifth best rebounder (5/10) to Porter, Barnes, Tatum, and Warren.
  • As far as shot creation goes, I’m going to use the “percentile” stats in four wing scoring categories (transition scoring, isolation scoring, pick-and-roll ball-handler scoring, and postup scoring), and combine the percentiles to form a very general (and flawed, but useful) “wing” shot creation stat. When you do this, Brown is the second worse shot-creator (9/10) to Brandon Ingram, and just below Andrew Wiggins on this list (Jayson Tatum is the best!). The eye test and stats bear out that Brown is an average shot-creator at the NBA level right now. However, each player on this list (other than Tatum) has at least 3-4 more years of experience than Brown, and each player was far worse at shot creation than Brown at the same point in their career.

I think Brown compares very favorably to this group of players. It’s not a given, but it’s fair to project that Brown will likely end up better than anyone (save possibly Tatum and Ingram) on this list.

But this article wasn’t just about projection; this was also about his current ranking. With that we have to ask this question: how many of those players would you take over Brown to win a game right now? I wouldn’t take Ingram, Wiggins, Fournier, Porter, or Warren over him to win a game right now.

Luckily for Celtics fans, we don’t have to choose between Brown and Tatum. Harris and Barnes are both good scorers with below average defense and poor facilitating. On the other hand, Brown is a below average scorer with great defense and poor facilitating. If you wanted to win a game today, it might depend on match-ups and the make-up of your team, but I’d always opt for good defenders in a situation like this.

The only guy from this group that I would maybe take over Brown to win a game right now is Khris Middleton, but I wouldn’t take him over Brown if I was building a team for the next 10 years.

In the end, I think you could certainly argue that Brown is already a top 10 wing in the NBA. Depending on how you rank other players, he may even be as high as 6th.