Nuggets’ first-round draft picks Christian Braun and Peyton Watson take opposing paths to NBA dream

Nuggets’ first-round NBA draft picks Christian Braun and Peyton Watson arrived in Denver already feeling at home in a city of champions.

“Beautiful. It’s a blessing,” said UCLA small forward Peyton Watson (No. 30 overall). “The fans are great. Like you saw with the Stanley Cup last night. Congratulations to the Avalanche.”

“I became an Avs fan in like two days,” added Kansas guard Christian Braun (No. 21 overall).

Braun and Watson both described being drafted by Denver as a “dream come true” when speaking with local media on Monday for the first time at Ball Arena. But their respective paths to the NBA were far from the same.

Braun’s resume suggests he is on a faster track to NBA minutes. The two-year starting guard for the Jayhawks appeared in 101 NCAA games. He averaged 14.1 points, 2.8 assists and 6.5 rebounds as a junior on KU’s run to a national championship this past spring. Braun, 21, also won three consecutive Kansas high school basketball state titles out of Blue Valley Northwest (Overland Park).

“Being from Kansas, I took a lot of pride in having that jersey on,” said Braun, who is listed at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. “That was my goal all along in my three years was just to win a championship. It was a great feeling to accomplish that. … That just makes me want to win at the next level even more. I know that this team is in a really great position with a lot of great players. Our goal is to win an NBA championship now.”

Watson is likely more of a project player for the Nuggets.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound wing was a highly coveted 5-star recruiting prospect out of Long Beach Poly (Calif.). Watson chose UCLA but averaged less than 13 minutes off the bench as a freshman this past season with pedestrian per-game numbers — 3.3 points, 0.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds. Yet Watson didn’t waver in his decision to enter the NBA Draft.

“I’ve always been confident in my game,” Watson said. “I know that nothing is ever given. I’ve fought my fair share of adversity to get here. It’s more so that than anything that made me feel like I was ready to be a professional. The things I’ve had to battle on the court and off the court. Just having to earn everything I got.”

Braun and Watson said they first met during the NBA Draft scouting process during a workout in Memphis. Braun called it “super competitive.” Both players have the length, athleticism and defensive instincts Denver coveted in bolstering the roster around two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic.

“Utilizing my length and athleticism,” Watson said. “But more than anything, I’ve been working on just keeping guys in front of me so I don’t have to rely on those types of things. Definitely, being in the passing lanes. Being a great help defender and making sure my teammates know they’ve got someone back there they can trust.”

Braun added: “I think I can guard multiple positions. In the league, that’s something that’s very important.”

NBA Summer League play begins next month with Watson and Braun expected to get a significant run in Las Vegas as the Nuggets evaluate their timeline to make the rotation.  Watson, 19, is embracing the process knowing that player development is among the Nuggets’ calling cards.

“You guys have seen what they’ve done in past years with the MVP of our league the past two seasons,” Watson said. “That’s something that every player dreams about is being the MVP, improving their game and being credited for that. … I’m going to be working hard from day one. I’m excited to get in here with the player developers and really take my game to the next level.”

Second-round pick. The Nuggets used their second-round pick to add depth behind Jokic at center when they chose Ismael Kamagate of France as a draft-and-stash prospect in Europe. Kamagate also spoke with reporters on Monday and explained his goals.

“Trying to help (Jokic) and the team to be better, as a finisher and as a rebounder, and as a good defensive player,” Kamagate said. “As a good teammate, too.”

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