There's no greater opportunity for a college player to make a name for himself than the NCAA Tournament. Play well for a two-week stretch and a young prospect can earn millions by capturing the attention of NBA scouts. Play poorly and a host of first-time viewers start forming snap judgments about your long-term future off just one game.
Cal freshman Jaylen Brown should brace himself for the latter scenario. The 19-year-old small forward was held to his worst game of the year as Cal was upset by No. 12 Hawaii in the first round Friday. Brown finished with a season-low four points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field, turning the ball over seven times and fouling out in just 17 minutes.
NBA scouts have been familiar with Brown for years. He was the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2015 and has been near the top of 2016 mock drafts since their inception. With great size for his position and boundless athleticism, Brown certainly looks the part of a pro wing. He just didn't leave the final impression he was hoping for with a dud against Hawaii.
There's context that goes into every performance, and it's no different for Brown. The freshman had a woeful afternoon in his only NCAA Tournament appearance, but there's a few things NBA fans need to be mindful of when assessing his game.
Cal was missing its star point guard and best shooter
Cal finally started to play up to its potential in February following the return of 6'5 senior point guard Tyrone Wallace from injury. Wallace was hoping to drum up his own NBA interest with a strong tournament, but he broke his hand in practice earlier this week and didn't play vs. the Rainbow Warriors.
Also making Brown's life harder was the absence of Jabari Bird, a 6'6 junior wing who suddenly came down with back spasms early Friday morning. Bird is one of the team's best shooters: a 41-percent threat from deep who can light up the scoreboard when he gets hot.
A slashing wing player like Brown needs shooters next to him to open up the floor. He also needs a quality point guard to create easier scoring opportunities and alleviate him from carrying an extra offensive burden. Without Wallace and Bird, Brown was set up to fail.
The only reason Brown's poor showing is a big deal is because he has such a bright future. It's easy to see why he's been on NBA radars since his high school days.
Brown has all the tools to be an NBA star
Wings have never been at more of a premium in the NBA than they are right now. At 6'7 with a 6'11 wingspan and explosive athleticism, Brown is ideally suited for the role.
Over seven games in February, Brown averaged 16 points and nearly seven rebounds per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the field as Cal went unbeaten. He's going to be great in transition from the moment he enters the NBA. He has a natural ability to coast-to-coast and finish above the rim:
But just because Brown looks like an NBA wing doesn't mean he's playing like one, at least not right now. His issues in his final college game were a microcosm of his poor play over the last two and a half weeks.
Hawaii exposed some holes in Brown's game
Brown has two major flaws right now: he's a poor jump shooter and isn't a gifted playmaker with the ball in his hands. Both were a problem against Hawaii.
Brown's season-long stats show isn't ready to be a primary option on offense just yet. He finished his freshman year with 105 turnovers to only 67 assists, a brutal ratio for even a bigger player. It was compounded by Brown's sky-high usage rate of 31.2 percent -- No. 20 in the country and first in the Pac-12. He's just not skilled enough offensively to be ending more than 31 percent of his team's possessions with a shot, turnover or free throw.
Brown is far too prone to putting his head down and barreling to the rim without examining the defense. It's a tendency that's put in him in tough spots all year, and Hawaii was able to take advantage of it by forcing him into seven turnovers.
Brown is too willing to force the action right now and he's too deliberate with the ball once he gets going. Like many young wing players, his ball handling needs a lot of refinement.
Hawaii was well aware he couldn't do much if it loaded up its defense and denied the straight line drive to the rim. It made Brown look like a man without a plan whenever he was unable to get deep into the paint.
Brown hasn't figured out how to be effective off the ball, either. He ended the season 30-for-102 from three-point range, good for 29.4 percent. There have been many times this year when he's hesitant to shoot even when he's wide open. That's from the shorter college three-point line, too -- in the NBA, those shots he's badly missing are merely long two-pointers.
Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward and Tyreke Evans were the only players drafted in the top 10 recently with comparable three-point percentages. Smart and Evans were far superior at creating with the ball in their hands, while Hayward has grown into a solid ball handler and a 36 percent shooter over his NBA career. Hayward might be the model for Brown to follow at the next level.
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It's easy to see how Brown shot up recruiting rankings on the AAU circuit, where the game is usually going up-and-down and there often aren't reliable shooting stats kept. His year in college has revealed he still has a long way to go in his development, but that's OK. There aren't many players who finished products at age 19.
It's not often you find a wing as big, as strong and as fast as Jaylen Brown, and that's why he's projected as the No. 3 pick by DraftExpress. He offers plenty of versatility, conceivably able to defend either wing spot and blessed with enough length to slide up to the four. Sliding up a position to power forward might be his best bet early in his career, because that's where his athleticism will have its greatest advantage.
The best news for Brown is that won't be in a situation where he's asked to carry an NBA team right away. He has the physical attributes that could make him a great role player early in his career. Unfortunately, when a young wing player is anointed a blue chip recruit, he typically tries to become the next Kobe Bryant instead of finding a niche and building up from there, like Kawhi Leonard.
If Brown dedicates himself to becoming a defensive stopper and improving as a shooter, he should have a fine NBA career. Just don't put too much on his plate at first. As Cal saw, he isn't ready for that yet.