KU Jayhawks’ Christian Braun has earned respect of Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic — who was denied a three-peat this season by former Kansas center Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers — recently broke a record of another former Jayhawk big man, Wilt Chamberlain, for most triple-doubles in a postseason.

Jokic, a 6-foot-11, 285-pound, 28-year-old forward from Serbia, has eight triple-doubles in 15 playoff games for the Denver Nuggets entering Thursday’s NBA Finals opener against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. Central at Ball Arena in Denver with a live broadcast on ABC.

Chamberlain had seven triple-doubles in the playoffs for Philadelphia in 1967.

The dominating performance of Jokic — he’s the only player in NBA history to have multiple 30-20-10 playoff triple-doubles (points, rebounds, assists) — has made quite an impression on Nuggets rookie Christian Braun of Kansas.

“There’s a lot,” the 22-year-old Braun said of lessons learned from Jokic.

Braun spoke last week and again Wednesday at a media availability in Denver prior to the start of the NBA Finals.

“I think that everybody kind of talks about his routine. He comes in and does the same exact routine every single day — the same shots, the same step-backs, the same fadeaways, the same free-throw routine,” Braun said. “He doesn’t take any shortcuts. He’s here early. He’s here getting treatment. His consistency with what he does is obviously the most impressive part.

“Like those shots that he hits, all the fadeaways, all the one-legged-behind-his-head shots that he’s making, he shoots these things every day. He’s not surprised when they go in, and I think that consistency is what everybody wants to take away from him.”

Jokic’s deep stepback jumper (off one foot) over Anthony Davis hiked a three point lead to 109-104 with 2:48 remaining in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver won the series 4 games to 0.

“I don’t know about that exact shot, but I mean he hit one at home that was the exact same shot but on the other side (of the court),” Braun, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound graduate of Blue Valley Northwest, said. “I think he’s shooting a really good percentage on those fadeaways. The last-second shot he took … we beat Orlando early in the year on a step-back, similar shot. When the clock is going down, that’s what he’s good at, and he shoots the same exact shot every single time, and it goes in. The consistency in what he does every day … nobody is surprised when he hits them.”

Jokic, an eight-year veteran, has averaged 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists a game during this 2023 postseason. Braun has chipped in 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds while logging 11.8 minutes a game in 14 contests.

“Obviously he knows the game better than anybody I’ve ever been around and I think that everybody would say the same,” Braun said of Jokic. “He and Coach (Nuggets’ Michael Malone) see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and they are on the same page, and that’s probably built up over however many years they have been together.

“He (Jokic), Jamal (Murray) and Coach are on the same page. A lot of plays they draw up, I know Coach said in one of his postgame interviews that Nikola came over and took the board and we ran the same five plays that he and Jamal drew up every time and scored on it every time. Just the knowledge that (Jokic) brings and he’s not a guy that wants to take over in the huddle. He listens to Coach and does what Coach wants him to. When he sees things, he points them out and that goes for anybody on the team. I think Jamal (also) sees things, he points them out, and everybody is on the same page. And that’s just trust built up over however many years they have been together.”

The Nuggets appear to possess a team with great chemistry. For instance, Jokic recently offered lavish praise when asked a question about first-year NBA player Braun.

“If I have one word to describe him, I’m going to describe him as a winner,” Jokic said of Braun, a starter on KU’s 2022 national title team as well as two Big 12 regular-season championship teams and three high school state title squads.

And Murray, a 26-year-old, seven-year NBA veteran who has averaged 27.9 points, 6.2 assists and 5.6 rebounds in 14 games this postseason also said of Braun: “C.B. has been great all year, just picking his spots and being solid while he’s on the court.”

Braun enters the NBA Finals known as a spark off the bench, especially on defense.

“You can talk about a lot of things in terms of what constitutes a good defender. I think the biggest part of it is the will, the want,” eighth-year Denver coach Malone said, asked about Braun by USA Today. “Switching onto LeBron James (in the Laker series) … Christian is a rookie. He was in college last year hanging out at frat parties and he was out here not afraid. He is going to get scored on. He is going to make mistakes. He is in like an advanced program right now and he is excelling.

“He doesn’t look like he doesn’t belong, and you can’t say that about a lot of rookies. I’m just so proud of the kid. He doesn’t blink. He doesn’t get rattled. He is really a cool-hand Luke — just calm, cool and collected. A fun kid to watch.”

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone talks with guard Christian Braun (0) in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Ball Arena on March 30, 2023. Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone talks with guard Christian Braun (0) in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Ball Arena on March 30, 2023. Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Malone recalled that Braun’s “first game this season was at Golden State and Christian, because Jamal sat that night, got to play and looked like he belonged from the get-go. Attacking, filling the lanes, getting to the cup, guarding and just flying around. He has just a tremendous amount of energy and that’s what we need. Making shots or not making shots, we just need energy. We need some guys that are willing to fly around and wreak some havoc out there. I think Christian fits that to a T.

“He’s a winner. The guy has won in high school, he’s won in college, and he’s gonna win in the NBA. It’s not always about the stat line, it’s about your impact and (Braun has had that),” Malone added.

Braun, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds a game as a rotation player during the regular season, said the Nuggets, who have been idle for 10 days waiting for the Boston-Miami series to conclude, are hungry.

“I think everyone is on the same page, and we have a lot of guys in that exact moment in their career: They want to win and this is their time to win. And I think that we had all the right pieces come together,” Braun said, adding, “We have not done anything yet. Our job is not even close to finished. We want to finish the job.

“I told all my people this — when we won the Western Conference Finals — it felt good, but I mean, it didn’t feel like — we still haven’t done what we wanted to do. Like I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished the goal, and I want these next four games worse than anything.”

He’s not surprised he’s in the finals.

“This is kind of where I expected to be with the team I’m on and everybody in the locker room is on the same page with what they want and winning,” Braun said. “I think I’m right where I need to be, especially for this year, and obviously there’s a lot of growth.

“I learned a lot from ... the last series (vs. the Lakers). There’s a lot of growth that I need to make, and right now, we are focused on winning and then in the offseason we’ll focus on other individual things. But I think I’m right where I need to be and just want to get these four games really bad.”

After winning the 2022 NCAA title with KU coach Bill Self in command, Braun now has a chance to become the fifth player in history to win the NCAA Tournament and NBA Finals in back-to-back years.

“It’s been great,” Braun said Wednesday, referring to this year and last. “However last many months it’s been, it’s been a good experience. Got to learn a lot, got to win a lot. Obviously, this is the biggest goal, though, and we’re close to getting there, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”

Asked if he’s spoken with KU coach Bill Self about what’s ahead, Braun said Wednesday: “A little bit. He hasn’t been able to get out here for a game yet, but my brother (Parker) just committed there, to play his last year, so I’ve talked to him a little bit about that, too. He’s a great guy and I love him to death. He’s done a lot for me, and I talk to him as much as I can.

“I think KU obviously helps you as much as you could possibly be helped, and then being there for a couple extra years also helps, playing at a national championship level also helps. There’s a lot of things that help you, but there’s not much that can prepare you for this moment and these moments — but if there was a player that was prepared, I think it would be me.”