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Nic Claxton sneaking his way into rotation

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In the hours after the 2019 NBA Draft, Sean Marks admitted that he took a “calculated risk” in trading the 27th pick in the first round to the Clippers for a future first, not knowing whether “our guy,” Nicolas Claxton, would be available four picks later.

Marks told reporters that the team had been targeting Claxton late in the first round and were happy to get him at No. 31.

“I think this gave us an opportunity, maybe a little bit of a gamble, but a calculated risk that we knew we could probably get our guy that we wanted (Claxton) and we’re ecstatic to have Nic join the team and then also delay that first round pick another year and then pick up a second round pick as well.”

In their internal mock draft, said one insider, the Nets had the near 7-footer at No. 18, which is where many draftniks also had pinned him. Instead he fell.

In talking with reporters, Marks was careful to say that the team would not “pigeon hole” Claxton, not by what position he would play, the 4 or 5, not by where he would play, Brooklyn or Long Island. Marks said he had learned with both Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs that you have to have faith in your picks, let them determine the level and locale of play.

“I think Nic is a guy that we’ll let develop and we’ll see where that translates and see where he goes from a development standpoint. I’d hate to pigeon hole him.”

Now, 11 games into the NBA season and three into the G League season, it’s looking like Marks was right about the 20-year-old’s talent and that he might surprise. He’s playing in Brooklyn and now, Kenny Atkinson is suggesting the Georgia product will get minutes in the rotation. Too much talent not to give it a try.

With Kevin Durant expected to be out for the season, and Kurucs playing poorly, Atkinson has begun “experimenting” with Claxton at the 4, pairing him with Jarrett Allen — Think “Thin Towers” — and DeAndre Jordan, who’s taken on a mentoring role.

“We’ve got to get our best talent on the floor,” Atkinson said Friday. “I think he’s a talented guy. We need to find a way to play him.”

It was the second time in a week that Atkinson had suggested he needs to find time for the Nets only rookie.

“I want to try and find minutes for him. Unfortunately, we can only play so many guys. But listen, he made a little bit of a statement the other night,” Atkinson said last Sunday after his breakout performance —eight points and six boards— vs. Portland. With Jordan sitting with a sore ankle, Claxton filled in at the 5. Now, Atkinson likes him at either big position.

Overall, Claxton’s numbers are not (yet) startling, but Allen has played well enough to keep him with Brooklyn. In 52 minutes over four games, he’s scored 14 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and seems to have a knack for the basket ... and a heady BBIQ. He’s shown he can set an effective pick and makes good decisions for a someone of his age and experience. He has yet to turn the ball over and has committed only four fouls.

His coach and teammates have consistently praised his potential and poise, with Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie going just a bit over the top.

In a Brooklyn Nets Magazine clip posted by YES on Thursday, Claxton talked about how much he appreciates where he landed and his willingness to play whatever role the Nets —and Atkinson— want him to play.

“To actually be here, it’s really surreal,” Claxton told Michael Grady. “Everything is starting to sink in now. It’s just an everyday grind. Every day I come in here, trying to get better. I have a huge chip on my shoulder.”

It’s a chip, he said, that has grown at each level, starting in high school: being underestimated, then succeeding ... like on Draft Night.