By Michael Kelly
DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets selected Kansas guard Christian Braun with the 21st pick of the NBA draft Thursday night.
The 6-foot-6 Braun averaged 14.1 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Jayhawks last season. His 12 points and 12 rebounds helped Kansas beat North Carolina in the national championship game on April 4. He played the entire game.
This is the first draft with general manager Calvin Booth as the primary decision maker for the Nuggets. Tim Connelly, who joined the organization in 2013 and served as Denver’s president of basketball operations, was wooed by Minnesota with a lucrative deal to run that franchise.
“I think sky’s the limit. He’s always won,” Booth said of Braun. “He was an impactful player for Kansas this year. So really excited about his future and I think he has the right approach. He’s going to try to earn time and hopefully he’s able to hit the court sooner rather than later.”
The Nuggets also acquired the rights from Oklahoma City to the 30th pick — the final selection of the first round — UCLA freshman Peyton Watson. They were also working out the details to acquire the rights to Ismael Kamagate, who was taken by Portland with the 46th pick.
Watson, who is 6-8 with a 7-foot wingspan, averaged 3.3 points and 12.7 minutes in 32 games with the Bruins.
Connelly left a talented team behind, led by two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic. Jokic became the first player picked in the second round to win the award when he took it home last year. His encore season was even more impressive — 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists while carrying a team missing two of its top players.
Jamal Murray missed the entire 2021-22 season as he recovered from ACL surgery and Michael Porter Jr. underwent back surgery and didn’t play after Nov. 6.
Jokic, 27, led the team to the playoffs for the fourth straight year and the Nuggets want to take advantage of the center’s prime years. They started reworking the roster already, beginning with Booth trading forward JaMychal Green and a protected 2027 first-round pick to the Thunder for the 30th pick in this year’s draft and two future second-rounders.
“We have work to do still this summer. We’re trying to put together a team that that’s going to maximize Joker’s peak years,” Booth said. “Right now, we have a lot of veterans and we have a good roster but probably have some more tweaking to do before we can say we’re done with the roster.”
The tweaking will include being active in free agency and let Braun and Watson develop.
“There’s some things that need to be done with the roster. We need to get bigger, we need to get more athletic, we need to get more two-way players,” Booth said. “And quite frankly, those guys are hard to get — in trade and free agency. So you try to backfill the roster with guys like Peyton and Christian and hope they develop. But in the meantime, try to acquire some guys that fit those needs until those guys are ready to play.”