Nuggets need this player to step up after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left for Orlando

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Seven
Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Seven / C. Morgan Engel/GettyImages

The loss of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency shouldn’t come as a huge shock to the Nuggets or their fans. It’s certainly unfortunate, but the tides have been shifting in this direction for weeks now so it’s hard to act blindsided by the news of his departure as he agreed to a three-year $66 million deal with the Orlando Magic shortly after NBA free agency opened.

What now for the Nuggets?

So where does the team go from here and how do they replace Caldwell-Pope and his massive impact? The simple answer, sadly, is that they really can’t. Even with KCP off the books, the Nuggets are over the luxury tax and can only use minimum contracts and the taxpayer midlevel exception to add free agents.

The Nuggets can look into making trades, but the team has just one draft pick at their disposal (2031 first-rounder) and the rest of the league isn’t exactly swooning over the team’s young players and prospects. Fans may not want to hear it, but the reality of the situation is that the chances of adding a player anywhere close to as good as KCP are extremely slim.

Christian Braun must step up big-time for the Nuggets

So that leaves us with players on the current roster and the one who must step up the most is probably Christian Braun. Braun was singled out by Calvin Booth as the player likely to replace KCP in the starting lineup next season and that does make a lot of sense.

Braun is a rangy guard/wing who plays somewhat similarly to Caldwell-Pope and has made an impact for the Nuggets in the playoffs. He can shoot and defend and plays with a lot of energy. He can bring some pace to the starting lineup and should help the team get out in transition. He’s not the point-of-attack defender that KCP is, but he uses his length to get his hands on a lot of balls and makes plays.

The big unknown is how Braun will be able to scale up. It’s one thing for him to come off the bench and provide a spark, but the team is going to need a lot more consistency from him now. He’s proven to be a capable role player, but now he’ll be relied on heavily every single night. It’s a big ask, but the Nuggets have put a lot of faith in their young players and the time for them to make an impact is now.