Caught up in all the hoopla of an exciting Nets win and a mesmerizing 60-point effort from Damian Lillard was the debut of Nets rookie Nicolas Claxton.
With DeAndre Jordan day-to-day (sprained ankle), Claxton was finally unleashed to the delight of many Nets fans.
Taken with the 31st pick (the Knicks second rounder) in the 2019 NBA Draft, Claxton was seen as a first rounder by most draft prognosticators and demonstrated some —but not yet all— of that talent in his first appearance. (The Nets reportedly had him at No. 18 on their internal mock.)
Claxton displayed the ferocious motor, offensive fluidity, and mobility that made him a tantalizing prospect throughout the draft process.
The rookie out of Georgia registered eight points, six rebounds — five of them offensive , in 12 energetic minutes.
He didn’t waste any time either. On the first offensive possession of his career, Claxton used his length and persistence to snag an offensive rebound, leading to a Spencer Dinwiddie 3-point make.
After getting his first NBA point at the free throw line, Claxton impressively went one-on-one at Anthony Tolliver, spinning from the free throw line into a physical left hook shot that kissed off the glass and down for his first field goal in the NBA.
Perhaps Claxton’s most complete sequence came with 9:09 remaining in the second quarter. Claxton skied high for the offensive rebound in traffic, once again using his length to his advantage by pinning the ball against the glass until he was able to secure it. Then, he used his springy athleticism to elevate, utilizing his soft touch through contact to convert the put-back and have a chance at a three-point play. Motor, athleticism, and fluidity; three pillars of Claxton’s game once again standing out.
Claxton was a menace on the offensive glass throughout his time on court. Now in the fourth quarter, “The Claxton” struck again, corralling a board and kicking out to Caris LeVert for three to put the Nets up six with 10-minutes to play, displaying both court awareness and poise to find the open shooter.
Claxton intensity on display with abundance in his debut. Specifically, with this incredible sequence in the fourth quarter.
Claxton’s fiery competitiveness came out, punching his fist with ferocity after a few missed layups, nearly connecting with Blazers guard C.J. McCollum for a would-be knockout blow. After the game, Claxton acknowledged that he is real intense out there and said of McCollum, “he alright” ... since the punch didn’t connect.
While Claxton is still thin —at maybe 220 pounds on his wiry frame, but his intensity and effort level will allow him to still be a contributor when his number gets called. He has a feel for the game and knows where to be; both key things for a young player if they’re going to be an immediate contributor.
He’s also a very willing listener, often shown on the broadcast taking advice from Jordan during timeouts.
DeAndre Jordan giving some advice to rookie Nic Claxton after logging his first minutes in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/09RKzykb39— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) November 9, 2019
Of his discussions with Jordan, Claxton said, “I’m all ears” and that Jordan was prompting him to be vocal defensively and quarterback the Nets defense.
After the game, Kenny Atkinson spoke glowingly about Claxton. During preseason, he described himself as “pleasantly, pleasantly surprised” by his 20-year-old charge.
“I thought Nic Claxton was excellent. Exactly what we saw in preseason. He has just got a knack for the ball, his length at the rim. Really, really good.”
“I thought Nic Claxton was excellent. Exactly what we saw in preseason.”— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 9, 2019
Coach Kenny talks about finding new rotations in Portland pic.twitter.com/TbuaWfqYVO
Dinwiddie added to the high praise for the rookie after the game.
“This is tough because it’s going to sound like a broken record because I said this about (Jarrett Allen), but I said (Claxton) was the most talented player on the team. I still believe (Allen) is going to be an All-Star and all that stuff.”
Later correcting himself, “Nic is the second most talented player on this team... (number one) is KD... Nic got game man. He got a chance. I put Jarrett fourth. Which is crazy. It’s crazy... but he’s going to be an All-Star center so.”
Irving had his own analysis of Claxton’s potential.
“I told him I was going to remember this for the rest of my life, when I’m retired, when Nic’s probably in his eighth year, when he’s an incredible player in our league.”
With Jordan’s injury not considered that serious, Claxton will likely return to his position on the bench - or with Long Island - sooner rather later, but even after only one game it seems clear that Sean Marks might have found another gem.
As Claxton said postgame, “I just have to be ready whenever my name is called. I was ready today.”
Someone to dream on, Nets fans.