The Brooklyn Nets have been looking for someone to fill in as the defensive anchor role since Jarrett Allen was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers to acquire James Harden. Since then, the Nets have signed Norvel Pelle and Noah Vonleh as possible candidates to fill in that role.
However, with Nicolas Claxton returning from an injury that made him miss the start of the season, Pelle and Vonleh have been cut from the team, and Claxton has fit seamlessly into the big hole left by Allen.
Nicolas Claxton is a second-year center from the University of Georgia, drafted as the 31st overall pick in the 2019 draft by the Nets. Since being drafted, Claxton has only played in 27 NBA games, missing many games due to injury.
On top of that, last season, when he wasn’t injured, the Nets had both DeAndre Jordan and Allen on the team, who are both non-stretch bigs, leaving no opportunity for Claxton.
Now with Allen gone, Claxton has capitalized on his opportunity.
Even though he is only averaging 18 minutes a game this season in just 12 games, over the last four games, Claxton has been the closing big on the court, Jordan playing almost little to no minutes in the fourth quarter.
Something similar happened when Allen was on the team, as Allen proved to be the better option at center down the stretch, Jordan lost minutes, and eventually the starting job. Claxton may already be on that same path, with the evidence in these last five games.
Now Claxton’s projection stats are crazy, with his Per 36 Minutes stats according to Basketball-Reference at 19.3 points per game, 3.1 blocks, 1.5 steals, and 8.5 rebounds. These stats are inflated because Claxton has only averaged 18 minutes a game, but it shows his impact on both sides of the court. His Per 100 Possession Defensive Rating is 108, the lowest on the team, but again to put that in perspective, he has only played 220 minutes.
Even though these stats are a little over-blown compare, the reality of Claxton’s play on the court is still awe-inspiring. Claxton has been perfect for the hyper-switching defense that Head Coach Steve Nash uses on the defensive end. You can see how Claxton switches on the Damian Lillard and sticks with him in the Twitter link below.
Because of Claxton’s length, he can contest shots from a distance and use that distance as a way to stay in front of guards as they move across the perimeter or even try to drive on him. His ability to recover on defense is a testament to his atheism and length.
Nic Claxton will be closing a lot of big games for the Nets with his ability to comfortably switch screens pic.twitter.com/SxhtF0bNiD
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) March 24, 2021
Now on offense, Claxton is super raw, and on a team with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden, he doesn’t need to do much. However, playing with creative guards like Irving and Harden has opened him up to easy lops from those two, along with being forgotten about when he drives off a pick and roll.
Claxton is so far back in a defense’s mind that on offense, he is forgotten about. He often gets easy uncontested dunks, like in the video below.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 24, 2021
Now when Kevin Durant comes back from injury, there will be fewer minutes to go around, but with Claxton already getting crunch-time minutes over Jordan, nothing might change. A lineup if Irving, Harden, Joe Harris or Jeff Green, Durant, and Claxton could be the most balanced lineup a healthy Nets team can offer.
The only issue is how Claxton deals with someone like Joel Embiid, who he will most likely have to face in the playoffs, and will Claxton’s post-defense be good enough to slow him down. If it isn’t, do the Nets use Jordan or Blake Griffin as a body to put in front of Embiid, or even look into the buyout market for Andre Drummond, which would for sure affect Claxton’s minutes.
For right now, Claxton has proven to be an excellent player, perfectly filling in the hole that Jarrett Allen left behind.
How long will that last, and how better could Claxton possibly be if he is given more minutes?
Featured Image: Forbes/ASSOCIATED PRESS