Despite having a slow start to his pro career, chatter among members of the Brooklyn Nets organization suggests that rookie center Nicolas Claxton is primed for a breakout sophomore season.
Over the past few years, the Nets have built a reputation by taking on reclamation projects and swinging on raw players with potential. So, it is not that surprising that they swung on a prospect like Claxton with the No. 31 pick in last year’s draft.
A 21-year-old, 6-foot-11 power forward out of Georgia, Claxton has all the physical gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NBA. The catch is that he thrives most when featured as an integral piece of the offense—as seen through his emergence in his second year with the Bulldogs.
As a freshman, Claxton played behind Georgia’s upperclassmen forwards Derek Ogbeide, E’Torrion and Yante Maten, leaving him with limited time to shine. Logging just under 15 minutes a game, Claxton averaged 3.9 points and rebounds while chipping in nearly a block and half a game.
Through only five starts, he showed signs that he may translate into a decent rim defender, though he was still raw as an offensive threat.
In year two, Claxton stepped up in a big way. Despite leading the Bulldogs to an 11-21 (2nd worst in the SEC), he doubled or even tripled his output in nearly every statistical category. While starting every game, Claxton averaged 13 points, 8.6 rebounds and two and half blocks.
He scored 15 or more points in 12 games, including a career-high 25 points during a win over Florida. He also had 12 double-digit rebound games and 13 games with three or more blocks, including contests against Georgia Tech, Auburn and Missouri where he recorded six blocks.
Outputs like these are what earned him the nickname “Slim Reaper” and secured him a spot on the All-SEC team:
Similar to college, Claxton’s first year in the league has come with growing pains as he was forced to jockey against established centers like Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan for playing time. Claxton is averaging only 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in only 15 games with the main roster. But as a member of Brooklyn’s G-League Long Island Nets, he grew into their primary scoring option while showing off his full offensive arsenal.
Claxton averaged 16.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game, but his efficiency as a shooting big man is most important.
Developing both his inside and outside game, Claxton’s combination of shooting touch and athleticism produced 65.9 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from behind the arc. His ability to rise above defenders, be aggressive on the boards, and to work on developing his game has earned him a lot of respect from his coaches and teammates.
During his stint in the G-League, Long Island Nets coach Shaun Fein told Nets Daily that he believes Claxton “is the most talented guy on the court when he is with us. He does everything.”
Veteran guard and Claxton’s teammate Spencer Dinwiddie one upped Fein, making potentially the boldest claim of any player all season when told the New York Post:
“Nic is the second-most talented player on this team. First is [Kevin Durant], either the first or second most talented scorer of all time.
But Nic’s got game. He’s got a chance [to be great].”
Yes, Dinwiddie placed Claxton over six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 27.4 points, 6.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds so far this season. That is also over rising star swingman Caris LeVert, who is averaging 17.7 points and recorded a 51-point triple-double with 11 rebounds, 10 assists and six steals against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Although controversial, Dinwiddie’s praise only shows just how confident the Nets are in Claxton’s potential growth as a future franchise building block. If his NBA career is anything like his stint in college, Claxton will only get better with more playing time and touches.
That’s because he brings diversity and flexibility at the center spot, something the Nets have been lacking.
One end of the spectrum is Jarret Allen, who is most known for his shot-blocking ability and willingness to contest as the rim. While one on the other is DeAndre Jordan, who despite getting up in age, still provides a rim running center than can rise above defenders for easy lob dunks and put backs.
Claxton provides the full package. His ability to shoot the ball from deep, provide athletic finishes and use his long frame allows him to potentially be both the dynamic shot blocker that Allen is as well as the athletic finisher that Jordan is, all while providing the floor stretching that neither do. Claxton has the gifts to become the fully developed center that the Nets have been in desperate need of.
By joining the starting lineup alongside Irving, Taurean Prince, LeVert and Durant—with Dinwiddie and Allen coming off the bench—Claxton could also help turn Brooklyn into one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.
Hello, my fellow hoop fans! My name is Jalon Dixon, but my friends call me Jay. Basketball is a 24/7 obsession that I can never get enough of. Whether it be NBA, WNBA, college hoops, high school basketball or even AAU, I watch it all. My passion is to create conversation for the forever-growing basketball community. Expect a handful of hot takes, some mock drafts, player/team breakdowns and plenty of quality content. The recipe is the perfect balance of analytics, the eye test and a sprinkle of opinion just to show the writer’s inner fan. My motto is “Always embrace conversation”, so my DMs and inbox are always open for a fiery barbershop-style basketball debate or two.