Yesterday we went down the beautiful memory lane of June 22nd 2017, the day this franchise brought in Jayson Tatum. Well wouldn't you know that today, June 23rd, is the 4 year anniversary of when the two Jay plan first started. You might remember that draft pick was not exactly received the same way Jayson Tatum was. In fact, people booed Wyc when he announced the selection that the Celtics draft party
You have to understand that at the time, all the talk was about the Celtics trading that #3 pick. Some offers were hilariously terrible
but others were tied to some pretty legit wings
Isaiah had just completed his first All Star season, but the Celts lost in the first round in 6 games with Evan Turner being the second best scorer of that playoff series. Smart was third at 12 points a game, but he shot just 36%. I mean look at this shit, it wasn't pretty
So you weren't exactly crazy if you wanted Ainge to cash in some chips for a proven stud to help Isaiah out. Shit, I was almost certain we were going to see something on Draft day. Instead, there was no trade and Ainge selected someone who everyone agreed was an insane athlete, but had questions about his shooting. A pretty legit concern given what we all just watched this team do in terms of shooting the ball in the playoffs. We didn't realize at the time that Ainge wasn't drafted Jaylen for what the type of player he was in that moment, but instead who he thought Jaylen could turn into. Turns out, that's a pretty fucking good player.
Unlike Tatum who started right away, Jaylen's NBA career had a much different start. He was joining a roster that already had veterans like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Gerald Green on the roster. While other high lottery picks were given the keys to their franchise, with Jaylen he was a role player to start. He played just 17 minutes a night and averaged 6.6 points. People KILLED him for it, calling him a bust and a waste of a pick blah blah blah. But situation matters and he was giving us flashes of what was soon to come during that 2016-17 season
When the playoffs rolled around, Jaylen barely played. Just a total of 215 minutes in his 17 appearances. We saw a player who needed a ton of development when it came to his handles/facilitating and playing in control. The talent was there, but it had to be honed in. We got more flashes of his potential, and you're lying if you weren't excited
Which brings us to the 2017-18 season.
In his second year, Jaylen started all 70 of his appearances. He shot 46/39% from the floor and after Hayward's injury it became clear that Jaylen and Tatum were the future. They complimented each other perfectly. This looked more along the lines of the type of player we hoped Jaylen would become
he showed signs of an improved passer bumping his AST% to 8.5%, but the biggest difference in this version of Jaylen was the new found consistency of his outside shot. Going from 34% to 39% from three on 4.1 attempts was huge. Considering he took just 1.7 3PA the year before, that was pretty drastic. Just like with Tatum though, his explosion came during the postseason.
Second on the team in scoring at 18 points a night, he put up 46/39% splits and was arguably the best player in that MIL series. He led the team in scoring against the Cavs in the ECF at 19.7 a night. Jaylen was blossoming right before our eyes into a legit two way stud at the old age of 21. While that season ended in heartbreak, it was impossible to not be over the moon heading into the next season given what the two Jays had accomplished.
But things don't always go as planned. An early hand injury in 2018-19 had Jaylen off to a brutal start shooting the ball. The team struggled. Kyrie and Jaylen hated each other. It was a disaster. He was able to recover over and was one of their most consistent players the rest of the year, finishing with 46/34% splits, but him going back to the bench was a problem for everyone involved. There wasn't that Year 3 leap like we hoped.
By the time the playoffs rolled around Jaylen was once again a starter, but there wasn't quite the same level of dominance now that Kyrie and Hayward were in the fold. He was legit against the Pacers like everyone else was, and even threw up 58/42% splits against MIL. Had Kyrie decided to not quit during that series, who knows what happens when you also factor in Tatum's 50/53% splits in that series.
Then came free agency, when Ainge had to make the decision of blowing up his team for one season of AD, or investing in the two Jays. We know which way he went, and the result was better than any of us could have imagined.
Remember that leap we all wanted to see in Year 3? Well, the 2019-20 season is what that looks like. I'd argue it really is Year 3 of Jaylen getting legit consistent minutes, and look at he's responded. A career high in FG%, a career high in 3PM, a career high in REB, a career high in AST, a career high in STL, and a career high in PTS. He's now arguably one of the best two way wings in the entire NBA. He's 23
The biggest difference at least for me is now Jaylen's handle is no longer a weakness. In fact, I'm ready to declare it is actually a weapon
Now that he has the same type of role as he did in 2018, he's flourishing. Jaylen has the 3rd highest usage rate on this team and is capable of being a #1 scoring option on any given night. His defense is improving, he is no longer playing out of control, and he put up an All Star caliber season. There's no more drama over playing time or touches or roles or any of that shit. This team committed to Jaylen with his rookie extension and he rewarded them with the best season of his career. I'm smiling just thinking about that.
My guess is this version of Jaylen is what Ainge envisioned when he selected Jaylen on this day in 2016. This version is why he never traded Jaylen for a "proven" player. Because he knew that Jaylen could develop into someone better and for a fraction of the cost. Think of how many people on the internet got their jokes off when Jaylen's extension was announced.
Well, who's laughing now?