SHENZHEN, China -- Back in July when Jerry Colangelo and Gregg Popovich started to realize just what sort of challenge they had in assembling a Team USA roster after a string of withdrawals, Jaylen Brown got an invitation to training camp with no promise that he'd make the final World Cup roster.
Now deep into this run in China, it's hard to imagine Brown not being a part of the team. He's ended up filling a badly needed multipurpose role and been a savior of sorts of the last week when his Boston Celtics teammate Jayson Tatum went down with an ankle injury.
There's a direct correlation between the Americans' improved play in their past three performances -- which included an 89-73 win over Brazil on Monday -- and Brown taking on a larger role. Playing significant minutes at power forward in Tatum's place and even playing occasionally at center, Brown's flexibility and intensity have been a needed injection.
"I feel like I'm not a position player, I'm a basketball player. 4-3-2, whatever coach needs me to do, I will make the adjustment," Brown said. "Obviously with Jayson out, there's a little more opportunity and maybe it was a little more visible. But every time I take the floor, I want to be aggressive."
Brown had 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in eliminating the Brazilians and helping set up the U.S. with a top seed going into Wednesday's quarterfinals against France (ESPNews, ESPN+, 7 a.m. ET). Over the past three games he's averaging 13 points and 6.3 rebounds on 51 percent shooting.
But those raw numbers aren't really illustrative of his contribution. Seeing his versatility on defense, how Popovich can use him on a variety of different players combined with the energy he brings when he comes off the bench tells a more complete picture. Simply, he's just been making plays all over the floor and he just stands out.
"Well he's a strong player," Popovich said. "For his size and strength he moves well, and he will penetrate. He can catch and pull it. Get to the rim. And he's unselfish and finding other people. He's just kind of an all-around player. He has stepped in and given us good minutes at both ends of the floor for sure."
Popovich rejects single-game plus/minus as a reliable statistic and that's fine. Everything on Team USA has sample size issues. But in this case, mentioning that the Americans have outscored their opponents by 34 points over the past three games with Brown on the floor feels fairly relevant.
Putting the data aside, there's also a certain toughness that Brown brings. This has been in his profile since he was at Cal and certainly has shown up in Boston. It was not a random happenstance that it was Brown who got into the face of Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo last weekend after a perceived cheap shot foul.
Brown was one of the few Celtics who wasn't afraid to push back against Kyrie Irving last season when the former Boston point guard took some shots at the younger players on the roster. Brown is sometimes quiet, but he's not meek. That attitude has been positive this summer.
"Chemistry is built when you hit adversity together and you've got to push through it," Brown said. "We've been challenged multiple times on this trip. We started Aug. 4 and now it's Sept. 10. We've seen a lot together."
Monday night he wore a Waffle House T-shirt as he departed the Shenzhen Bay Sports Arena. He's had the same order, by the way, since he was a kid: "All-Star special, grits instead of hash browns, no meat. Scrambled eggs hard with an extra waffle, maybe blueberry depending how I'm feeling and a sweet tea. I get the same thing every time."
That's when you are reminded that Brown is a bright guy from the Atlanta area, who loves back-and-forth conversation and a good Waffle House breakfast. Like his play, there's always some edge.
"You say I've played my best in the last three games is subjective, whatever opportunity I get I try to take advantage of it," he said. "This what I've been doing all my life."