3 Players at risk of getting axed from the Nuggets’ playoff rotation

Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)
Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images) /
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Chrisian Braun, Denver Nuggets playoff roster cuts
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1. Christian Braun

The rookie has generally performed well when given a chance, but every time Christian Braun seems to have finally broken through, he finds himself riding birch again.

Braun has done a little bit of everything this season. He’s drained 27 of his 65 non-garbage-time threes. He cuts with purpose and aggression, reliably defends a variety of positions, and keeps the ball moving. He punishes the rim with surprising athleticism and uses those same springs to battle for boards with bigger foes.

But the playoffs are a whole different beast, and when push comes to shove, I’m not sure that Malone will have Braun on the floor as a tight series draws to a close.

NBA coaches, as a rule, don’t trust rookies in the playoffs, even when they should. They prefer more experienced veterans who have seen playoff pressure first-hand. Braun has primarily made his mark as a high-energy guy, but when everyone is playing at maximum output, he might be unable to stand out.

Defenses will sag off of him until he proves he can shoot accurately and at high volume, and his clever cuts won’t be as open when an opponent has several days to scout his tendencies. Opposing offenses will do their best to discombobulate and attack the rookie; even if he’s a stouter defender than Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. in a vacuum, he’s never been tested in a playoff setting.

The good news: Malone has put rookies in high-impact situations before, most notably Porter Jr. Frosh MPJ averaged just 16 minutes per game in the 2019-2020 regular season, but that number increased to nearly 24 as the Nuggets made their surprising run to the Western Conference Finals.

Porter, of course, is a no-conscience gunner. The key to his playing time increase was a dramatic uptick in three-point volume, which maximized spacing and weaponized every inch of the floor around Jokić’s world-bending passing.

We know Braun is a capable shooter. But defenses will be glued to Murray, Porter, Jokić, and even KCP when they are on the floor, opening up opportunities for Braun to fire away. He can’t hesitate if he wants to stay in the rotation.

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