Christian Braun Attacking Closeouts | The Friday Screener
Off-ball shooting is a crucial skill, but Christian Braun is proving that defenses must do more than simply run him off the line to stop him.
Ochai Agbaji gets most of the 2022 NBA Draft love when people discuss the Kansas Jayhawks, and rightfully so, but the improvements that Christian Braun has made during his college career also deserve immense amounts of praise. At 6’6” and 218 lbs., Braun provides a blend of athleticism, shooting, and basketball IQ that will fit in nearly NBA rotation. As a freshman, Braun was essentially just an off-ball shooter as 40.4% of his jumpers came off the catch, and he used 49.3% of his possessions on spot-ups, per Synergy. Today, though, Braun has grown into a versatile scoring wing because of his significant improvement at attacking closeouts.
At first glance, this may seem like an incredibly niche skill to spend an entire article discussing. I could have just as easily titled it “Christian Braun’s On-Ball Creation” but given that his role will be primarily off-ball, focusing on how he attacks closeouts is more apt.
As a freshman, Braun broke onto the scene, shooting 44.4% from three on 2.3 attempts per game. As a sophomore, Braun’s shooting effectiveness plummeted as he shot just 34% on 5.1 attempts per game. This year, Braun regained his shooting form as he made 39.2% of his 3.3 attempts per game.
This wild fluctuation in Braun’s efficiency may seem troubling, but it should actually be really encouraging. In his sophomore season, opponents now had tape of Braun torching them from three, so their defensive strategy was to run him off the line at all costs. Braun didn’t have a counter to that. Now, Braun can attack closeouts with ease, which makes him a more versatile scorer and creates better looks from three because defenders can’t simply run him off the line.
This season, Braun spent 31.2% of his possessions spotting up, where he scored 0.92 points per possession (PPP) (56th percentile). Braun also scored 1.244 PPP shooting off the catch (88th percentile), 1.154 PPP on all jumpers (92nd percentile), 0.939 PPP shooting off the dribble (79th percentile), and 1.16 PPP on three-point jumpers (83rd percentile) (these accounted for 90.6% of his jump shot attempts). So, while the raw percentages may not floor you, it’s safe to say the shot is just fine.
When Braun attacked closeouts, he rarely took a dribble jumper (12 all season), so his 0.583 PPP on these shots could be significantly skewed by just one additional make. However, given Braun’s improved volume and effectiveness at shooting off the dribble (see previous stat above), it should be a real weapon for him moving forward.
It isn’t overly complicated, but we see below how effective this tool can be for Braun. As the ball swings to him, Braun knows that his defender has a long way to go for the closeout. Braun uses a routine shot fake to induce the fly-by, takes one dribble, and knocks down the open jumper.
Even though I expect this type of shot to increase in volume for Braun as he ages, he was far more focused on attacking closer to the rim when he attacked closeouts. A reliable option for Braun all season when he did this was his floater, where he scored 0.846 PPP (48th percentile).
Here, we see Braun instinctually lift out of the corner to make himself available for the skip pass. Braun’s defender forces him baseline on the closeout, and Braun gladly accepts. Braun immediately reads the help defender coming to set up the charge or double. Instead of panicking, Braun jump stops to halt his momentum and kisses the floater off the glass.
Braun’s improved ball-handling has helped him attack closeouts, but his lack of hesitation is the most meaningful change. Here, as the ball is kicked out to Braun, he immediately attacks against his defender’s momentum, rendering his defender useless. Since Braun didn’t hesitate, the help defender on the baseline is slow to rotate. Braun secures the ball under the block attempt and finishes on the left side of the rim to negate any other potential help defenders.
This time, Braun shows off a little more craft with his at-rim finish. Braun’s quick first step and decision to attack his defender’s high foot allows him to dispatch his defender easily. As Braun attacks the middle of the floor, he is met by a help defender who is preparing to sacrifice his body (I can’t believe I’m helping the PR of taking a charge by fluffing up the description like that). Instead of continuing on his current trajectory, Braun launches himself out of his jump stop towards the baseline. This adjustment ensures that Braun avoids an unnecessary charge while also improving his at-rim finishing angle.
Braun improving his scoring versatility as an off-ball wing is a significant improvement on its own, but he has also used his ability to attack closeouts to move defenses and set up his teammates. It feels like a rudimentary evolution but having multiple ways to punish defenses as an off-ball wing is a necessity to earn minutes.
Here, Braun catches his defender with a sloppy, square-stance closeout even though he is well behind the arc. Braun takes advantage of the lapse in fundaments and attacks the lane. Braun quickly recognizes the help defender’s rotation and doesn’t hesitate to throw the lob.
This time, Braun takes advantage of the defense not fully matched up in the early offense. After forcing the fly by with the first defender, Braun’s drive attracts the rotation of two other help defenders. As he approaches the lane, Braun plants and launches himself towards the free-throw line. This move allows Braun to avoid the charge while also slightly changing the angle of his pass, making it more difficult to deflect. Braun’s pass is right on the money for an easy corner three.
The scary (in a good way) part of Braun’s game, though, is how athletic he is. This isn’t one of those white guy tropes where I’m going to call him “sneaky athletic” or something along those lines. There is nothing sneaky about it. Braun’s explosiveness was most often on display this season in transition, but when given an open lane to the rim, he was more than happy to oblige with a big dunk.
This time, Braun knows his defender is ball-watching, but instead of taking the open corner three, he sees there is a much easier shot available. Braun knows that his teammate’s post-up attempt has created a pseudo-screen, so Braun immediately drives baseline for the dunk.
The strides that Braun has made to be more than “just a shooter” are meaningful and encouraging for his long-term development, but he still has a lot of work to do. Braun is primarily a two-foot leaper, which is fine in the open court, but it limits his wiggle, adjustment, and vertical pop in the half-court. Additionally, Braun doesn’t have a lot of craft at the rim. He has good touch and size, but he needs to continue improving his use of angles and finishing through contact.
This season, Braun attacked the rim after spotting up 22.1% of the time, but he only scored 0.667 PPP (9th percentile). Not ideal. Here, Braun uses his relocation to set up a drive. Unlike the previous clips, Braun’s drive is more rounded instead of straight-line. As he gets to the lane, Braun is almost surprised by the defensive rotation and rushes a wild, off-balance floater.
Braun had numerous examples of dunking on guys in transition this season, but we saw much less of that in the half-court as he struggled at times with contact at the rim. Here, Braun attacks the closeout perfectly and gets in the lane with ease. Braun almost seems surprised by the space he finds as he takes off well outside the restricted arc. As he elevates, Braun seems to immediately recognize his error. Instead of going strong through the oncoming contact, Braun braces with his left arm while significantly extending the ball away from the defender in his right. Braun flips up a wild shot that has no chance of going in.
Christian Braun has turned into far more than “just a shooter” in the half-court offense. He uses his shooting gravity to create scoring attempts attacking the rim for himself and others. Braun has good touch on floaters, at the rim, and on pull-up jumpers, but his finishing craft is still rudimentary. He’s come a long way, but he will only find more success if he can improve his use of angles and work on his one-foot leaping. Off-ball wings must provide more than just shooting off the catch now. When defenders run them off the line, what can they do? Christian Braun has proved that when he is run off the line, he can still punish the defense in a myriad of ways.