2024 NBA Finals: Mavericks coach Jason Kidd calls Jaylen Brown, not Jayson Tatum, the best player on Celtics

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have largely been treated as a set since entering the NBA. They were drafted in back-to-back years at No. 3 overall, each with picks the Boston Celtics originally acquired from the Brooklyn Nets. They play the same position as versatile forwards. Their names even start with the same letter, which is why they share a nickname, “the Jays.” They are the two longest-tenured players on the team and, as such, have lived through every playoff disappointment the Celtics have endured during this era. When things have gone wrong, critics have even pitted the two against one another, suggesting that one might need to be traded to maximize the other.

All of this background is notable because Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd (ironically, himself a part of a failed group of stars early in his own career whose names all started with a “J”) weighed in on the seemingly endless Tatum vs. Brown narrative with a somewhat surprising conclusion. “Well, Jaylen’s their best player,” Kidd said ahead of Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Saturday when asked about Boston’s star wing. “So, just looking at what he does defensively. He picked up Luka [Doncic] full-court. He got to the free-throw line. He did everything, and that’s what your best player does.”

There’s a bit of irony in Kidd’s conclusion that a team’s best player does everything, as Doncic is not known for his defense and was picked on quite a bit by the Celtics in Game 1. In truth, this was likely a bit of gamesmanship from Kidd, an attempt to create a bit of internal division within his NBA Finals opponent.

Tatum is generally considered to be the slightly superior of the two players. Tatum has been named a First-Team All-NBA player three years in a row. Brown has never made the First Team and missed out on All-NBA entirely this season. They are both scoring roughly 25 points per game this postseason. Brown is doing so far more efficiently. Tatum is averaging far more assists (5.9 to 2.6) and rebounds (10.4 to 6.1). Both are strong defenders. Brown was named the Eastern Conference Finals MVP winner. Tatum won that trophy when the Celtics reached the Finals in 2022.

Of course, the entire concept of this Boston team is that it doesn’t need to have a single, best player. The Celtics may not have a top-five player in the NBA, which is a rarity among prospective champions, but it has five players that would qualify for top-50 status and a future Hall of Famer in Al Horford coming off of the bench. Jrue Holiday easily could have won Eastern Conference Finals MVP over Brown. Derrick White nearly made the All-Star team over Brown. Kristaps Porzingis might have were it not for injuries.

The Celtics are so good because it doesn’t matter who their best player is. They can beat you in a variety of ways with a variety of players. Brown was sensational in Game 1. Tatum might be in Game 2. White might be the star of Game 3. Boston could clinch the series on a 30-point Holiday outburst. Ultimately, the Brown vs. Tatum narrative misses the point of what makes this team special. Perhaps there was a time when such a quote would have bothered them. It seems as though that time has passed.

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