Nuggets rookie Christian Braun shines in Summer League debut

LAS VEGAS – Barely one minute into the Nuggets’ Summer League debut, Christian Braun made clear why Denver deemed him worthy of their initial first-round pick.

The Nuggets corralled a defensive rebound, and as two-way guard Collin Gillespie sped up the floor, Braun took off running into space. Gillespie lofted a pass over a Minnesota defender from well beyond the 3-point line, and Braun rose up, caught the pass at its peak, and hammered a two-handed alley-oop for his first basket as a pro.

“He’s a really easy guy to play with,” Gillespie said.

In one promising sequence, Braun flashed his willingness to run-out, highlighted his ability in transition and flexed his athleticism. All three were strengths of his in college that caught Denver’s attention. There are worse ways to start an NBA career, or make an impression on Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who sat courtside at the Cox Pavilion while assistant coach Ryan Bowen handled head coaching duties.

Minnesota won 85-78 in the exhibition affair.

Malone sat with a handful of current players, including Bones Hyland and newly-signed wing Bruce Brown and joked with Jamal Murray during timeouts.

Brown was in town to sign his new 2-year deal with Denver, while Hyland and Murray were there supporting the Summer League squad. Shortly after tip-off, Michael Porter Jr. showed up, too, there for his brother, Jontay, who was debuting with the Nuggets’ Summer League roster. MPJ sat next to Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young, his good friend from his AAU days.

“I love seeing (Jontay) out here,” Porter told The Post. “Seeing him get up and down, seeing him being able to play and do some good things out there. He’s a really, really good player when healthy.”

Jontay knocked down two 3-pointers in 14 quality minutes.

As the game wore on, Braun’s impact trickled into even more aspects of the Nuggets’ outfit. He called out defensive coverages on one end, and then shot the ball with confidence on the other. It’s easy to see why Malone said he could envision him contributing next season. While none of his skills jump off the charts, none of them are obvious weaknesses, either.

“I’m not a guy that needs a play called for me, I’m not a guy that needs somebody to do something to boost my confidence, to boost my energy,” Braun said.

Braun finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

Watson’s learning curve: Fellow first-rounder Peyton Watson look every bit the offensive project he was at UCLA. He forced the ball into space on several sequences and looked uncomfortable when launching from 3. That said, his strengths were obvious. He guarded as advertised, holding his own on the Timberwolves’ guards and swatting a key layup late in the fourth. He also showed some capability to handle, like when he found fellow draftee Ismael Kamagate on a short lob late in the second quarter.

Malone has said Watson will need time to develop in the G League, but Denver’s front office officials are extremely high on his defensive potential. If the offense comes around, he might be a find.

Kamagate: Denver traded a future second-round pick to Portland for the right to draft Kamagate. Though raw, the 6-foot-11 French center was impactful around the glass. Imposing and athletic, Kamagate was a menace on the offensive glass and altered several shots when the Wolves got in deep.

As poorly as the Nuggets defended the rim last season, Kamagate could address that in the future. For now, the plan is for him to play this season overseas. Outside of DeAndre Jordan, the Nuggets don’t have a ton of depth at backup center.

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