Boston Celtics

Mazzulla responds to Jaylen Brown criticism by scorning popular stat

"It's one of most misleading stats of all time."

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Joe Mazzulla is a numbers guy. But there's one ubiquitous stat he apparently hates.

Jaylen Brown found himself in the spotlight last week when ESPN's Instagram account posted a graphic noting that the Boston Celtics wing had 43 shot attempts and zero assists over his last two games. Brown took exception to the graphic's implication that he doesn't share the ball, replying "Y’all corny watch the game" in the comment section.

After Boston's 120-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, Mazzulla came to Brown's defense by deriding assists as an overrated metric.

"It's one of the most misleading stats of all time," Mazzulla told reporters in his postgame press conference. "You know why? You know what has to happen to get an assist?"

The answer, of course, is a made basket, which is out of the passer's control. So, Mazzulla prefers to focus on "potential assists," an advanced stat that combines assists and passes that create open looks, even if the recipient misses that look.

"To me, it's one of the most misleading things to say a guy didn't get an assist," Mazzulla said. "It doesn't mean he didn't pass, it doesn't mean he didn't make the right read. It just meant on his potential assist opportunities, the shot didn't go in. And I think that's what's important for our guys, what success looks like."

Mazzulla pointed out that Brown had plenty of potential assists in those two games, and that he frequently brings up the stat in conversations with his players.

"I make sure I talk to them about, 'Yeah, whatever it was, (43 shot attempts) and zero assists, but here are your potential assists.' For this team, it's important that success isn't defined by stuff like that, because it's misleading, and it's not fair to them."

Lest you think Mazzulla was just highlighting potential assists to defend his player, Celtics star Jayson Tatum confirmed that potential assists is a stat the team tracks every game.

"We talk internally on what we want our potential assists to be, our average on a nightly basis," Tatum told reporters after the game. "Part of it, your teammate has to make the shot, so you just have to do your part and find the open guy and make the right play."

Playmaking has never been Brown's strong suit, but the advanced metrics show he's improving in that area. The 27-year-old is averaging 6.7 assists per game after setting a career high last season with 6.6 potential assists per game. In fact, Brown's potential assists have increased in each of the last four seasons, and he's averaged over three "regular" assists per game in each of the past four campaigns.

The Celtics don't necessarily need Brown to rack up the assists, as Tatum and guards Derrick White and Jrue Holiday are all excellent facilitators. But Brown has made great strides to change the narrative that he's a shoot-first wing, and potential assists help support his case.

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