Jayhawks don't want Christian Braun passing up open 3-pointers
Further along than most freshmen in his position might be thanks to an ideal frame of mind, Christian Braun knows he doesn’t have to score to make an impact when he checks into a game off the Kansas bench.
But when Devon Dotson’s hip injury kept the Jayhawks’ leading scorer out of the lineup at Oklahoma, Braun actually could have taken a more assertive approach and heard zero complaints from his coaches or teammates.
KU head coach Bill Self, in the middle of complimenting the backup guard for his competitive nature after the Jayhawks’ win at OU earlier this week, pointed to one way that the freshman can be a little more fierce with the ball in his hands.
“How many shots does he turn down?” Self asked. “He’s a good shooter.”
Self thought Braun, the 6-foot-6 freshman who a year ago starred at nearby Blue Valley Northwest High, otherwise played well enough in just his second career Big 12 road game. It was just that KU (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) actually needed more scoring than usual out of its role players, with Dotson sidelined.
A 37.9% 3-point shooter so far this year, Braun played 25 minutes against the Sooners and shot 0-for-2 from beyond the arc (0-for-3 overall).
In retrospect, Braun knew he passed up on some potential 3-pointers.
“Yeah, I think I was a little too passive on the offensive end,” Braun said after the road victory. “That's something that comes from me just thinking too much, you know, trying to get in the right spot all the time, but sometimes you’ve just got to let it go.”
It was the second game in a row that Braun went without a made field goal, but this time around having to play out of position some seemed to contribute to that. That overthinking he referenced came because with Dotson out, Braun had to spend some minutes as KU’s four-man and a couple of others at point guard.
“When Christian struggles, it’s not fair to him,” Self said, explaining most of the freshman’s repetitions this year have come as the two-guard or at the three position. “He knows the plays from those spots. But he was either running the four or the one (at OU), and he doesn’t know the plays from either of those spots, so we got screwed up a couple times that way.”
It’s actually a strength of Braun’s that he’s so versatile that Self could ask him to play at four different positions, depending on the lineup on the floor. But Braun admitted the variety got to him a few times.
“I had to run a couple plays from the one, from the two, the three, so I got a little confused out there today at some plays in some spots,” Bruan said, before adding he was thankful Marcus Garrett played 38 minutes at the point, so he didn’t have to worry about extended minutes trying to play that spot as naturally and effectively as the junior Garrett did.
That’s not to say Braun doesn’t strive for having that type of responsibility. In yet another promising development during his ongoing on-court education, he holds himself to a high standard. It’s part of what has made him a dependable part of the rotation, when as recently as early December he wasn’t even playing 10 minutes a game.
“I try to do my best just knowing all the spots, as many spots as I can,” Braun said. “And playing hard covers up for most of that, so I think I did a pretty good job doing that (at OU).”
The elder Garrett was a lot more forgiving when assessing how Braun played against the Sooners. The veteran praised the freshman’s basketball IQ and said there was “a lot” to appreciate about what KU got out of Braun in the road win.
“Energy,” Garrett said of how Braun impacted the result. “That’s the big thing we tell him with him coming in, being a freshman — if you can’t score and you can’t do those things, you can bring energy, attack, just know the scouting report.”
Averaging 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25.5 minutes through his first four Big 12 games, Braun scored both of his 2 points at OU at the foul line, but also provided six rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal as a backup.
His commitment to playing hard often helps KU get defensive stops. And by the end of the win at OU, Braun was a part of the five-player lineup Self used most in Norman, Okla. The group of Garrett, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike and Braun played a total of 18:21 and proved to be the most effective lineup. When Self had those five on the floor, KU outscored the Sooners, 34-18. None of the eight other lineups Self used had a plus/minus higher than plus-three.
Typically, Dotson is part of KU’s best lineups. But with the starting point guard and leading scorer out at OU, all the role players had to find ways to step up. Braun explained how he went about approaching the game, knowing his responsibilities would be greater than usual.
“Just stick to the things I always did,” Braun said. “I’m never going to be the guy that scores the most points or anything like that, especially my freshman year. But just get loose balls and try to get as many possessions, because you know in games like that it's going to be tough. So you’ve got to get as many extra possessions or offensive rebounds, stuff like that, as you can.”
It’s that exact mentality that fast-tracked Braun’s role this season, and it will do him well moving forward, too, particularly once Dotson returns to the lineup.
But even when KU is at full strength again, Braun shouldn’t forget that this team needs 3-point shooting anywhere it can get it, and both his teammates and head coach like the odds of those shots falling when the ball is in Braun’s hands and he has a good look from deep.