DENVER (AP) — Denver Nuggets rookie Christian Braun is showing that the NBA Finals is not too big of a stage for him.
The 21st pick in the draft last summer, Braun has made the most of his minutes off the bench, sinking 10 of 12 shots, grabbing a half dozen rebounds and collecting four steals against the Miami Heat while giving teammates an extended breather.
“That’s a rare rookie right here,” Aaron Gordon said. “From Day 1 he’s been on top of it. This is a real winner right here. I say that because he’s always in the right spot. He’s in the right place at the right time, and he’s been doing that all year.”
Braun has a chance to become just the fifth player in NBA history to win an NBA title a year after winning the NCAA championship, joining Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Henry Bibby and Billy Thompson.
Braun gave the Nuggets a much-needed lift in Denver’s Game 3 rout of the Heat. With Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray making history with the first dual triple-double in the NBA Finals, Braun scored 15 points in 19 minutes on a night starters Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope struggled again.
Braun’s remarkable resume includes three state championships at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kansas, and a national title with the Jayhawks last year.
Most rookies who cap their college careers with championships have to bide their time in the pros until it’s, well, their time. Braun is two wins away from an incredible fifth championship in seven years.
And one of those years without a title came in 2020, when the pandemic shuttered sports and society at a time the Jayhawks were entering the NCAA tournament as the nation’s No. 1 team.
“Getting shut down, we feel like we were definitely held back from something,” said Braun, who helped Kansas win the national title two years later when he had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 72-69 win over North Carolina in the national championship.
“I’m definitely blessed,” Braun said. “It’s not necessarily an individual accomplishment. I’ve been a part of some really good teams with really good coaches and really good players.”
Like on the court, he’s been in the right place at the right time his whole life.
“All year long the one thing I’ve talked about with Christian is that he’s a winner,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The guy has won at every level, and here he is in the NBA Finals. It’s kind of staying true to form for Christian Brawn.”
Malone said he knew Braun’s addition was going to be big when the 6-7 shooting guard whose last name is pronounced “Brown,” helped Denver to a 128-123 win at Golden State in the second game of the season with Murray in street clothes as he worked his way back from a torn ACL.
“For a young player playing against the defending world champions on the road, he wasn’t afraid,” Malone said. “That really stuck out to me. Most young kids, they get in a situation or environment like that, they’re going to be a little bit over their head, and he wasn’t.”
Braun’s attitude is that if he’s only going to get minutes here and there, then he’s going to hustle from the second he checks in to the moment he’s summoned back to the bench.
“The last two months of the year he was a rotational player for the No. 1 team in the West,” Malone said. “He’s done his job in the playoffs. He’s gone out there and defended, rebounded, ran the floor, moved without it. He’s never afraid of the moment, which you have to appreciate for such a young kid.”
“Obviously, the Final Four kind of helped me with that,” Braun said. “I’ve kind of been here before.”
Several times even.