"I can fill that role pretty easily": Christian Braun on Bruce Brown's departure, Nuggets' championship run, the Lakers and more (Exclusive)

Christian Braun exclusive with Sportskeeda
Christian Braun exclusive with Sportskeeda

Following an intense first day of training camp that entailed plenty of drills and scrimmaging, the Denver Nuggets hardly looked like a team nursing a championship hangover. Instead, they looked like a team determined to make history.

“We’re not satisfied with one. We’re trying to turn this thing into a dynasty,” Nuggets guard Christian Braun told Sportskeeda. “We’re trying to turn it into something consistent every year so that we’re consiste ntly fighting for a championship every year.”

When the Nuggets gathered for a pre-training camp dinner, Coach Michael Malone instructed his players to hold each other accountable and remain susceptible to coaching. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, and Golden State Warriors are the only teams in NBA history to defend their championship.

Denver believes it can join that list. The Nuggets boast the NBA’s best center (Nikola Jokic), a point guard who could make his first All-Star appearance (Jamal Murray), a proven and experienced head coach (Malone), and roster depth (Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Braun).

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Denver believes Braun, whom the Nuggets selected at No. 21 last year, will play a critical piece after impressing the team with his defense, toughness and fundamentals during the team’s post-season run. The Nuggets plan to carve out an even bigger role for Braun in hopes to offset Brown’s off-season departure to Indiana.

“He was the best player in our gym most days this summer,” Malone said of Braun. “He took that confidence and swagger that he had with the experiences he went through last season in the playoffs and the Finals. Not many rookies had the impact that he did.”

Braun spoke to Sportskeeda about that impact, his upcoming season, Jokic’s MVP moments, Murray’s resiliency, Malone’s championship parade celebration and the Lakers being upset with their trash talk after eliminating them in the Western Conference Finals.

The following 1-on-1 person has been edited and condensed. Please credit Sportskeeda for any quotes used from this interview.

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What’s your favorite Jokic performance?

Braun:

“I have a lot of them. I don’t have a favorite performance. But it’s funny in the Lakers series when he was shooting off of one foot. People were like, ‘Man he was making those lucky shots.’ Even a lot of my friends were pointing that out. They’re like, ‘He’s making those lucky shots.” I would say, ‘Well, he went 4-for-5.’ It’s funny when people think that those are lucky. He makes them all the time. He was probably 4-for-5 in that series on that one foot.”

What was it like to see an opponent’s deflated expression when Jokic makes those shots?

Braun:

“It’s tough. Jamal is the same way. You can play your best defense for 20 seconds. Then in the last four seconds, he and Jamal make a really, really tough shot. That’s a unique thing about this team. We have Michael [Porter Jr.] who can do that. We have a lot of guys that can jump up and hit a shot over a contested hand. You can play good defense for 20 seconds, but it doesn’t matter. We got guys that are really good.”

What was your favorite championship parade moment?

Braun:

The energy was amazing. That was the coolest part of the parade. The city was obviously waiting so long for that. That’s where the energy came. I was excited to see DJ (Deandre Jordan), Ish [Smith] and Jeff [Green] win. Those are genuine, good guys. They had been in the league for a long time and waited so long for that moment. To see those guys win and see those guys happy, that was my favorite moment. That’s why I acted how I acted.”

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What did you think of Malone’s parade moments?

Braun:

“Coach was hilarious. I got to see a different side of coach. He was stressing all year. He obviously knew the importance of all of those games. He knew the importance because he knew this team was good. So once we won, he was able to let loose a little bit. That was a cool moment to see Coach like that.”

What do you think of the Lakers not taking kindly to your guys’ trash talk?

Braun:

“We’re not into it that much. Obviously, that’s what a lot of people want to talk about, but they’re a great team. We know that. They’re a good team. There are a lot of good teams in the league this season. It’s training camp for the next season. So all of that is in the past. We won last year, and we know that was last year. It’s important we put an emphasis on that we back up what we did last year so we can defend. We have to come out with the same hunger and the same emphasis on winning as we did last year. We know it’s a new year. We don’t focus too much [on the trash talk].”

How did you spend your offseason?

Braun:

“It was a good offseason. I got to go home and spend a lot of time in Kansas with my family and being around my people. That was important to me obviously after the long season. Being around everybody and taking a step away in early August and getting back around the guys has been fun. My brother plays for Kansas now. I have a little brother who is going off to college and starting his first year at Nebraska-Omaha. So, I got to work out with them a little bit. I saw my mom and dad. I got to do a camp with my high school coach. That was fun. It was awesome. A lot of people that I got to see supported me. They were people that were around early in my career. I got to hang out with them. They were proud of me. But I’m thankful for what they’ve done for me.”

Who are those important people, and in what ways have they shaped you?

Braun:

“My mom and dad, obviously. I’ll start with them. With having my brothers, they have sacrificed a lot and missed a lot of time at their school and their sport to come watch me. Then I have a lot of friends I’m really close with that have stayed with me in Denver and in Overland Park, whether it’s guys I played with at Kansas and guys I grew up with. All of them made me take steps to get here. I’m thankful for that."

Braun was an NCAA champion last year
Braun was an NCAA champion last year

"I have a unique position to be in the NBA and a unique opportunity to help my friends and brothers and be around my family that have helped me. So I feel it’s my job to help them as much as I can and be around them. They love me and support me. My parents have given me everything. There are coaches that I’ve had and guys I’ve been around my whole life that shaped me as a player and are still a part of my life. I’m grateful for them and what they have done for them. Getting to work out with them this summer, I was staying true to who I was. That was important.”

Why is that important to you?

Braun:

“I grew up in Kansas and went to college in Kansas, so that’s my roots. I’m grateful for the state of Kansas and the people at the University, including Coach [Bill] Self. Coach [Ed] Fritz, my high school coach, I talk to him every day. I’ve had AAU coaches since I’ve been in fifth or sixth grade. I take pride in being around guys I’ve been with my whole life. It’s cool taking steps and then watching them take steps, too. I got to see them play and watch my brothers grow. That’s what’s most important to me in life.”

How do you build off of your rookie season?

Braun:

“The same way I prepare for every season. That’s another thing that is important – knowing what got you on the court and what got you to this point. That’s the same thing that has gotten me on the court at every single level that I’ve played at. I want to expand on different things. I want to get better, whether it’s your shooting hand on the ball. I worked on those things in the summer. But what got me on the court will continue to keep me on the court and keep me in the league. I’ll stay true to who I am.”

How can you mitigate Bruce Brown’s departure?

Braun:

“I was fortunate enough to learn a lot from him and from KCP. I was fortunate enough to be around guys who are similar to me in a lot of ways. Bruce and I are similar in a lot of ways, but we’re also different. We bring different things to the court, whether it’s defensive intensity, transition scoring or being a pest. We’re similar, so I think I can fill that role pretty easily."

"Obviously, he’s a great player and did a lot of great things for us in big moments, too. So there is definitely some expanding to my game that I need to do. But with watching him and his effort every night, I think that’s a big reason why he was so good. That’s also something that I’m really good at, so I think I will fit into that role well."

Felipe (Eichenberger), (the Nuggets’ director of performance and head strength and conditioning coach) told me that you fit into the culture last season because of your toughness and resiliency. In what ways has that helped with your success?

Braun:

“I think it starts from the top down to have a guy like Nikola and Jamal. Nikola comes in and does his job and does his extra work every day the same way with the same routine. Jamal came off an ACL tear and came back in the gym more than anybody. It starts with those guys and then it trickles down. You want to be a guy that continues to represent the team the right way. When you have your best players in the gym putting in the most work, that sets the standard and the tone."

"That is especially true for this year. A lot of the young guys want to be the same way. You don’t want to be that guy (that doesn’t work hard). As long as I’m out there, I can play through being hurt. That creates opportunities for me. Your best ability is sometimes your availability with being out there.”

What do you observe that Nikola and Jamal do with their day-to-day?

Braun:

“They do a lot of things. They’re different people, so they approach things in different ways. Nikola is consistent with his routine. He lifts after every game. He doesn’t skip those things. That’s really important and it’s impressive to me with how consistent and disciplined he is with his routine. Jamal came off an injury that is really tough to come back from, but he fought every day to get to where he is at. Then he performed at his best in the biggest moments. Those two things about those guys are really impressive. That speaks to their toughness and willingness to buy in and want to win."

What did they help you with your rookie season?

Braun:

“Jamal is my locker room mate. They both teach in different ways. They both throw in different things. Nikola will grab me and point things out. Jamal will turn you more into a competitor. They teach you in different ways. If Nikola sees something, he’s willing to point it out on the court. He’ll grab you and tell you quietly. Jamal is going to compete with you and make you better in that manner. That’s also very important. Jamal pushed me in a competitive manner and Nikola taught me.”

Malone and [Nuggets GM] Calvin Booth said Nikola has been more vocal. What have you noticed?

Braun:

“He goes about his business and goes about his own way. He sees the game before everybody else sees it. He sees the game faster, better and different than everybody else. He’s so smart and willing to call those things out. I wasn’t here in the past years, obviously, so I can’t speak to that. But from last season? Everything he saw, whether it was on the court or in timeout, he was willing to speak up about it. He was willing to grab the board and draw up a play. We all trust him with whatever he’s drawing up and whatever he’s telling us. It tends to work.”

What did you think when Jokic told you that you won Game 3 against Miami?

(Braun had 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting, four rebounds and a steal)

Braun:

I think it’s hilarious that he says that I won the game for him. Everybody stepped up and made big plays. To win a game that had two guys with 30-point triple-doubles is an interesting comment. Obviously, I’m glad to help any way that I can. I think I helped and played my role. But we had two guys in that game (Jokic, Murray) that had two 30-point triple doubles. Yet, they are so selfless that I won the game. That’s pretty impressive about him.”

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What do you remember about the hype you showed after you stole Jimmy Butler’s pass and finished with a fast-break dunk?

Braun:

Those are plays that you want to make. I made them at the right time. That speaks to the trust of my team and my coach to put me out there at that moment. Being on the court is the biggest thing. You make plays based off of how long you’re out there on the court.”

What will it take to defend the NBA title knowing you all had a short summer and other teams made moves to try to beat you?

Braun:

“It’s tough to repeat, obviously. We’re emphasizing on why we were there and why we were in that moment. We were emphasizing how important getting first place [in the standings] was. That’s what is really important. We put ourselves in a great position in the regular season to benefit from where we were at. We were the one seed. We have to put emphasis on getting the one seed again this year and putting ourselves in the best position to repeat.”

I understand this is apples to oranges. But you’ve won consecutive championships when you account for your high school and college years. Is there anything relevant that you can glean from those experiences that apply to what’s ahead?

Braun:

“I’m still learning. This is a different league. I’ve won back-to-back championships in different leagues. I can’t compare that to going back-to-back in the NBA. But I know the importance of putting yourself in the best position and putting yourself in the highest seed. We were a No. 1 seed in college. We were a No. 1 seed in the NBA. That sets you up in a much better place. So you emphasize that."

"Obviously, you also have to stay healthy. But I can’t tell you about going back-to-back in the NBA. It’s just about discipline. This team has it. Coach Malone is an important part of our team because he’s a different NBA coach. He pries the discipline out of his players. He also emphasizes things in practice that I don’t know a lot of other NBA coaches do. He’s willing to call you out and is willing to tell people that ‘We got to do this’ and ‘We got to do this better.’ Even though we’re the No. 1 team in the NBA, we’re still trying to improve every day. Coach. Malone is a big part of that, too.”

Beyond a championship, what other goals do you have?

Braun:

“I have a lot of individual goals that I write down before the year. But I don’t think any of those goals will be met if I don’t come in with the same mentality with doing what I do to get me on the court. I know what got me here. I know what will get me on the court every year. If I continue to do those things, my work will speak for itself. The work that I put in will show. I worked hard this summer for those bigger opportunities and that expanded role. I think if I stay true to myself and do what I do, all the work will show."

"My goals stay the same. We’re no individual. We’ll make sure we win as a team. We’ll emphasize on starting off on the right foot, get the No. 1 seed and make sure everybody knows our goal is the same. We’re not satisfied with one. We’re trying to turn this thing into a dynasty. We’re trying to turn it into something consistent every year so that we’re consistently fighting for a championship every year. It’s not about my individual goals. I do know I’m going to have a bigger role this year. But I know what comes with that. I know we’ll compete for a championship for the next few years.”

In what ways did the Nuggets make you feel more empowered with drafting you, granting you a role and trusting you can mitigate Brown’s absence this upcoming season?

Braun:

“It’s the trust. The trust from Coach Malone to put me out there in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. It’s the trust from Calvin with letting me step into that bigger role and trust I will work and be ready for that. It means a lot. This organization is putting me in a position to succeed right away. Not a lot of guys get that opportunity. I trust that I’m going to put in the work and give it my all. I think it goes both ways. They trust me. They also trust that I’ll put in the work. It’s my job to prove them right and help them win. They know I’ll do that. They know I’ll compete every night. That’s why they’re so trustworthy. But I’m so grateful for the Nuggets, Calvin and Coach for trusting and giving me this opportunity."

Mark Medina is an NBA Insider at Sportskeeda. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Threads.

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Edited by Amulya Shekhar
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