With the help of Nikola Jokic, Christian Braun nearing storybook ending to rookie season

Memphis Grizzlies guard John Konchar, front, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets could be the first step toward a major feat for former Kansas guard Christian Braun.

If Denver were to win the series, it would put Braun in a special circle with four other players — Bill Russell, Henry Bibby, Magic Johnson and Billy Thompson — who have won an NCAA title and an NBA championship in consecutive years.

Braun, who was picked 21st overall by the Nuggets in last year’s NBA draft, has played a supporting role in Denver’s climb to the top of the Western Conference and to its first-ever finals. He’s averaged 2.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 11.8 minutes per game in the postseason.

Last weekend in Colorado, Braun told reporters that the NBA postseason isn’t like what he experienced in last year’s NCAA championship run.

“It’s different,” the Burlington, Kansas, native said. “In the NCAA tournament, it’s one game. There’s a lot of pressure on that one game, and here there are a lot of ups and downs. We’ve had series where we win two, we think we’re up 2-0, it’s a big lead and then you lose two in a row. It’s completely different, but the same pressure.”

Last season at KU, Braun racked up 14.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In his first regular season in the NBA, his averages were nowhere close to that: He posted 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game. But he said he’s been making the most of every one of those minutes and learning as much as he can from the talented crowd around him — especially five-time NBA All-Star and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

photo by: David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun, second from left, holds up his jersey for a photo with his brothers Parker, left, and Landon, right, and mother, Lisa, after being introduced to the media during a news conference on June 27, 2022, in Denver.

Braun said Jokic “knows the game better than anybody” and is just as much a mentor as the Nuggets’ eighth-year head coach, Michael Malone. The rookie said he’s taken note of the 6-foot-11 veteran’s habits throughout the season.

“(Jokic) comes in and does his same exact routine every single day,” Braun said. “The same shots, the same stepbacks, the same fadeaways, the same free-throw routine. Doesn’t take any shortcuts.”

This season, Jokic has nearly averaged a triple-double, with 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game.

“I think that consistency is what everybody wants to take away from him,” Braun said.

Of course, Braun is used to being on teams that value consistency and a winning culture. In high school, he won three state titles with Blue Valley Northwest, and he then spent three years working on his craft with college basketball’s winningest program in history at the Division I level.

When comparing his time at KU to his first season in the NBA, Braun recalled his freshman year, when he was a newcomer on a team that was loaded with veteran talent and was expected to make a lengthy NCAA Tournament run before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2019-2020 season short.

“I was a piece to a really good (Kansas) team,” Braun said. “The time that I get (at Denver), whether it’s two minutes, five minutes, 20 minutes, I just try to make an impact on the team.”

And if you want to help shape the team, he’s learned, you first have to let the team shape you.

“Whether it’s AAU or the NBA, every system I went into was a winning culture and was a team that demanded certain things of you,” Braun said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it was just me coming in and changing anything. It was me coming in and adapting to what was already set up before I got there.

“There’s no secret thing, but just joining a culture and being able to adapt is how you get onto the court doing that. That’s what I’ve been good at, is adapting.”


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