Forsberg: Jaylen Brown's All-NBA case could be a matter of position

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Malcolm Brogdon gushed about teammate Jaylen Brown after the All-Star’s loud performance Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs, but his choice of words was notable.

"[Brown is] the best shooting guard in the league," said Brogdon. "He’ll be All-NBA; he’ll make one of the teams this year."

All of that very well might be true. But a glut of talent at the guard position this season might have Brown hoping to instead emerge as one of the best forwards in the league.

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If Brown lands one of the 15 All-NBA slots, voted on by a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters at the end of the regular season, then he will be eligible to sign a five-year, $ 290 million supermax extension with the Celtics this summer.

Failing to earn an All-NBA spot complicates the path to his next deal. And Brown’s big payday ultimately might hinge on what position voters slot him. 

Why does position matter? The NBA notes that any player who receives votes at multiple positions is only eligible at the position where they receive the most votes.

What’s wild is that the NBA’s decision to classify players this way actually cost Jayson Tatum big bucks on his rookie extension. Tatum was eligible at guard and forward after the 2020-21 season and muscled onto four ballots as a guard. He spotted on 39 ballots as a forward and, thus, classified there.

Tatum actually tallied more total ballot points (69) than All-NBA third team guard Kyrie Irving (61) but was not eligible for a guard spot despite getting votes there. The disaster scenario for Brown would be landing on more ballots as a guard but not totaling enough points to land one of those six spots given the abundance of competition there.

Tatum missed out on $ 32 million because of his snub. Brown’s losses would be even more significant given that Boston can only otherwise offer him an extension this summer starting at 120 percent of his final-year salary (though a new CBA eventually could help Boston make a more robust offer before he truly reaches free agency).

Complicating Brown’s voting: One year after logging most of his minutes as a guard, Brown has spent most of this season as a forward.

Last season, Brown slotted as a shooting guard in Boston’s double-big lineups. With Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III in that starting group, Brown essentially was paired with Marcus Smart in Boston’s backcourt.

But Boston has gone single-big much of this year with Williams III missing extended time. There’s also increased guard depth after adding both Derrick White and Brogdon over the past 13 months. That those factors have Brown logging most of his minutes at small forward.

Brown has played roughly 57 percent of his total minutes this season at forward, compared to 43 percent at guard. Here’s a breakdown based on Brown's playing time (through 74 games) alongside Boston’s trio of guards: 

Add Payton Pritchard to the mix and Boston has had two guards on the court with Brown for much of the season.

In an era of position-less basketball, positions continue to complicate voting for postseason awards. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic might be the two current favorites for MVP, but one of those players could get shuffled to All-NBA second team center because they play the same position. Voters will only be able to slot one of them as a first-team center and, even if they get muscled onto ballots as a first-team forward, they might not earn enough total votes to slot there.

Brown is doing everything he can to force voters to include him on their ballots, regardless of position. And not even a facial fracture has slowed him. In 14 games since the injury, Brown has upped his scoring output to 28.4 points per game while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 37.6 percent beyond the 3-point arc -- all while adding 6.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.

There’s a case to be made that Brown has been one of the best players in the entire NBA since the All-Star break. The Celtics can help Brown’s candidacy by surging to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and upcoming games with East rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia could determine whether that happens.

For the season, Brown has now scored 40-plus points on three occasions and totaled 30-plus points in 21 games. His 41-point, 13-rebound night against the Spurs had Brogdon and teammates heaping praise on Brown’s season.

"His game really speaks for itself," said Brogdon. "When JT is out, he’s the No. 1 option. He’s showing that he can be that. He’s put in the work, he’s evolved. Since we came in the league together, he’s evolved and taken giant steps forward every year, and he’s playing at an extremely high level."

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