Christian Braun earned his biggest career endorsement following his play in the Nuggets’ 122-120 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. It came from the back-to-back MVP.
“He was good. I actually told him, not just his energy, he actually played really good,” Nikola Jokic said after the Nuggets’ suffered a third-straight loss Sunday. “He had good minutes. He was talking on the floor. He was running correct. Energy, you need to have energy when you play, especially him. But I just think he had really good minutes.”
“I think he won a couple things,” Jokic continued. “I think he knows. I never win anything in my life, but I think I know what the mindset needs to be, and he has a great mindset.”
Those “things” Braun won is Jokic referring to the four high school state titles and 2022 NCAA National Championship at Kansas that Braun won at Kansas before arriving in Denver. They’re accomplishments that Michael Malone typically references when speaking about Braun’s on-court impact too. And Braun’s winning traits as a player again flashed against the Nets.
“Last three games, our defense has been non-existent,” Malone said. “I’m looking for guys that can guard.”
Braun didn’t play in the first three quarters against Brooklyn. But with Denver struggling again defensively, Malone went to the rookie to open the fourth and the Nuggets trailing 98-87. He helped the Nuggets trim the Brooklyn lead to just one point with 2:46 remaining in the 4th. He then made his best defensive play of the night to get a key defensive stop.
The reason why Braun hasn’t been playing as of late is pretty simple, from at least what I can gather. The Nuggets are at full health and playing a nine-player rotation. And Braun is the 10th man. There aren’t any available minutes for him night-to-night right now with how Malone’s current rotation is aligned.
I know I sound like a broken record in this space and on the DNVR Nuggets Podcast, but that has to change. Braun is one of the Nuggets’ best defenders. Full stop. He’s a big body for his position at 6-foot-6 and can guard small forwards too. He’s the type of defender the Nuggets are going to need to rely on in the playoffs. He’s rangy and athletic. Braun was in the process of expanding his offensive game too — in January and February when he was actually in the rotation because other players were out due to injuries.
“I haven’t played a lot of minutes lately, so it’s my job to come in there, just give the best effort that I can,” Braun said. “Those guys don’t ask much from me. They just ask me to play hard. If I come in and play hard, try to get a couple of extra possessions for Nikola, do things like that. That’s really all that they ask.”
Calvin Booth drafted Braun 21st overall last summer because he fit the archetype of player that he wants to surround Jokic and Denver’s core with. But Booth also said on draft night that he thinks Braun can compete for a rotation spot immediately. The Nuggets’ front office has always believed that he could play right away, and what Braun has done this season when he’s been given a chance has proven that they were right.
Braun shouldn’t be an end-of-bench, last-resort option who the Nuggets only go to when they can’t get a defensive stop all game, which is the role he played vs. Brooklyn. He’s too good to be in that spot, even though he’s a rookie on a championship-contending team. Braun has shown time and time again that he can be trusted.
The Nuggets need to find ways to get him on the floor every night. It’s way past due for Braun to be a lock for minutes every game.
“I talked to DeAndre (Jordan), talked to the guys,” said Braun. “They just say, ‘Change the game, change the energy.'” So it’s just staying ready. You’ve got to come in, you’ve got to make defensive stops. It’s just energy, especially at this time of the year. It’s late in the year. Those guys have played a lot of minutes. It’s my job to come in and change the game.”