The Nuggets knew they needed to address their defense. General manager Calvin Booth did that with both of his first-round selections Thursday night.
With the No. 21 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, Booth selected Kansas junior Christian Braun.
“He’s a guy we identified pretty early in the process,” Booth said. “Felt like he had two-way potential, brought great energy, think he’s going to bring big size as a guard. … Sky’s the limit. He’s always won.”
At No. 30, with their second first-round pick, the Nuggets selected UCLA’s Peyton Watson. At 6-foot-8, Denver was high on Watson’s defensive upside, per a league source.
Booth described Watson as a “basketball junkie,” and said in the future, he believes he has All-Defensive potential.
Later, the Nuggets traded a 2024 second-round pick for Portland’s No. 46 pick in order to select 6-foot-11 center Ismael Kamagate from Paris, per a league source. An athletic, rim-running big man, Kamagate, 21, has a unique ability to handle for his size.
Braun, a feisty, 6-foot-7 wing, was the type of player the Nuggets had in mind heading into Thursday night’s draft. He averaged 14.1 points and shot over 38% from 3-point range last season, addressing the Nuggets’ need to improve their perimeter defense, which was a sore spot last season.
His experience — the Jayhawks won the national championship this past season — was a bonus. The Nuggets never intended to add a young prospect with their top pick, instead hunting for a player who could contribute immediately.
Braun checks that box.
His effort in hustle situations endeared him to Kansas coach Bill Self, and his competitiveness endeared him to Booth. He also impressed scouts at the NBA draft combine, finishing third overall with a 40-inch max vertical leap.
Braun averaged 6.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists last season, an indication that he’s got far more depth to his game than just his motor. Known as a slasher and an excellent cutter, the Nuggets envision Braun thriving in Denver’s pass-happy offense.
Watson will be more of a project for the Nuggets. His statistics (3.3 points in 12 minutes per game) were underwhelming during his lone season at UCLA, but his wingspan and frame were intriguing enough for the Nuggets to take a swing.
Overall, rather than overhaul any part of the Nuggets’ roster or use the draft to grease any other trades, as had been speculated, Booth opted for youth. In Braun, the Nuggets hope they found a guy who can do the little things and thus engender trust with coach Michael Malone. Having lost wing defenders like P.J. Dozier and Torrey Craig in recent seasons, perhaps Braun can fill an obvious hole, while adding an element of offense.
At minimum, they took a chance on a guy who’s more than willing to do the dirty work.
Watson’s harder to project, though the intent to improve the defense was obvious.
Asked about the overall roster construction, Booth added: “We definitely need to try to bolster our defense.”
First-round Roddy: Colorado State’s David Roddy was largely predicted as a second-round pick, but the versatile forward went far earlier than most anticipated. The Grizzlies took Roddy with the No. 23 pick, which they acquired from Philadelphia in exchange for De’Anthony Melton. Danny Green also went to Memphis.