Jimmy Butler and Christian Braun got to compete against each other in the 2023 NBA Finals, and the Miami Heat star is the kind of player the Denver Nuggets seem to think their emerging player can become.
Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth brought in Braun via the 2022 NBA Draft and will be counting on him to play an even bigger role in his second season after the departure of Bruce Brown as a free agent.
“Enter Christian Braun, the unofficial poster child for Phase II of the Nuggets’ dynasty plan,” wrote Sam Amick of The Athletic.
“No one within the organization is anointing the 22-year-old guard who was taken 21st in the 2022 draft out of Kansas as some kind of post-Brown savior, though Booth has been known to compare him to the early (and underrated) version of Jimmy Butler. The internal enthusiasm about his ceiling is, well, through the roof. And when it comes to the bigger picture at play here, this much is evident: their choice to protect the ascent of a promising second-year player has everything to do with the larger strategy that’s unfolding.”
If Braun can get anywhere near the heights Butler has reached in his NBA career, the Nuggets will have quite a player on their hands.
About to enter his 13th NBA season and fifth with the Heat, Butler is a six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection and six-time All-Defense choice. The Marquette University product, who was the No. 30 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, was the league’s Most Improved Player for the 2014-15 season and MVP of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat have made the NBA Finals twice since Butler arrived, losing in 2020 to the Los Angeles Lakers and 2023 to the Nuggets. Miami also lost the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Known sometimes as “Playoff Jimmy,” the 34-year-old has won eight of his 12 playoff series with the Heat.
Braun obviously has never lost an NBA Playoffs series after helping the Nuggets win the title as a rookie, averaging 5.8 points per game while playing a little more than 16 minutes per contest in the five-game Finals win against the Heat. He also holds a college national championship earned with the University of Kansas in 2022.
It’s possible Butler and Braun will meet again in the NBA Finals this season, but the defending champion Nuggets may have a better chance to get back there than the Heat. Miami was unable to land Damian Lillard despite continuing efforts this offseason, and the All-Star wound up with a conference rival in the Milwaukee Bucks.
For his part, Butler arrived at media day in good spirits, sporting a new emo look and hairstyle. Braun has yet to adopt that part of Butler’s game, but maybe it will come up somewhere down the road as he becomes more established in the NBA.