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FILM STUDY: What Nic Claxton Brings to Brooklyn

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Brooklyn Nets

The Nets first move of the 2019 NBA Draft —trading out of the first round— appeared to be another attempt at opening up cap space — about $2 million this time— ahead of next week’s free agency. What has been lost in all the talk about that move is the second thing the Nets did on Thursday evening — taking Georgia big man Nic Claxton with the 31st pick.

Claxton was a steady riser during the workout phase of the Draft process. He had been out of the national spotlight during the season. The Bulldogs had a lackluster season (11-21) and were without a true point guard.

So what are the Nets getting? A thin near seven-footer with sound basketball instincts who has a more polished game on the offensive side than some may realize. Claxton has a capable three-point shot for his size and the confidence to pull the trigger.

He took two three pointers per game this past season and although he made only 28 percent of his attempts, it wasn’t all too bad. If you dial in to NBA three-point line, he shot 17-of-50, good for 34 percent. In comparison, Jarrett Allen was 0-of-7 in his one year at Texas. At only 20, Claxton shows a solid foundation for a three-point shot that should excite the Nets coaching staff. For example, the Nets have been pushing Allen to take three’s, still a work in progress. Claxton on the other hand already has a base ...

Claxton is indeed raw on the offensive end. He ranked in the middle of the pack as a spot up threat, according to Synergy. He placed in the 40th percentile in points per possession but that could be due to some mitigating factors including the fact that the Bulldogs lacked a true primary ball handler, someone who could have diverted some attention from Claxton. So, Claxton wasn’t getting the cleanest looks off the catch, but it also must be noted that he hasn’t a developed spot-up threat for a Nets team that loves to have shooters spot up.

This may give you a better look. Claxton takes a pretty deep —and contested three. You can see the mechanics are there. It’s a bit of a staggered stance but both feet are pointed towards the hoop and he has the confidence to shoot this despite his defender contesting the shot. He knows the value of his length.

Where Claxton can thrive in Brooklyn is the team’s off-ball movement and the way the Nets like to get the ball up the court. Claxton loves to run. He has a very solid handle for a player of his size and age. He is always looking to get the ball and push it up ahead. As seen in the prior clip against Illinois State, Claxton is eyes-up and looking for the man in front of him, not just his point guard.

This play is Claxton showing off his handle and his ability to finish around the rim. The big man takes it right off the cup and is turning around and firing out down the floor in one motion. This may not be a play that happens nightly, but Claxton shows flashes of being a well-rounded threat with his handle and his finishing ability. He has really nice touch around the rim with a nice release point.

I chose this clip to highlight some other parts of Claxton’s game, not just the nice finish. Georgia was so deprived of talent this year that his coach, Tom Crean, gave Claxton more work as the primary ball handler than he’ll have in Brooklyn ... at least to start his career.

Claxton was recruited to Athens as a small forward and had a growth spurt at the end of high school, so being a threat with the ball isn’t so far-fetched for him. Claxton working with the ball outside the key was a fairly common occurrence.

Taking it inside, Claxton may not have the strength to fight for tight position against many NBA big men, but he can hit a nice turnaround from inside the paint. For the 216-pound Claxton working that over-the-shoulder turnaround shot, where he stays straight up, will be a development priority for him —and the Nets, but those seeds have been planted.

Claxton being a threat outside the paint is something that can help him once he grows into his frame, but it is also nice to see he is exceptional inside the paint.

This is simply a nice finish coming on a strong post move. Claxton doesn’t figure to be a back to the basket post player, but again, it is nice to see that there are signs that Claxton can become a complete player with some work and reps at the next level. He only posted up on 12 percent of his possessions on offense according to Synergy and shot 42 percent on a somewhat small sample size. There is still work to be done, but his soft hands and smooth release from close range can be useful.

Where we will see a lot of Claxton is above the rim. He has effortless bounce; his max vertical of 36.5” placed him in the 88th percentile according to NBAthlete, and he is always moving towards the rim.

Claxton comes flying in from the perimeter to find the ball and make a quick step and bounce. He’s quick to the ball and great at high pointing it. Check out this clip below.

He reaches over his man for the ball and goes right at the rim to draw the foul. Claxton is a work in progress at the line, where he shot 64 percent this season, an improvement from his freshman season. In any case, while Claxton may take some time to get a full portion of minutes on a game-by-game basis, there’s no doubting his energy and motor as a player.

Watching Claxton, he is always clapping and bouncing around on both ends and what seems like some chatter on the court too. Not to a fault, but from an energy standpoint. He brings all of that to the court, too.

Brooklyn under Sean Marks has grabbed projects in the back half of the first round before and Claxton fits the mold of a Marks player, if not Allen’s mold. Where Claxton differs a bit from Allen is their movement on the floor. While both are similarly sized, Claxton is more mobile, at least from when Allen was drafted.

One trend in a lot of these clips I’ve shared is Claxton’s movement. The Nets offense is built around a lot of off-ball movement and cutting all over the court. While Claxton was a prominent figure in the Georgia offense, his second most common play type according to Synergy was cutting, where he scored 1.22 points per possession and converted on 62% of his field goal attempts. He moves, and moves well, and can catch teams sleeping.

Back-doors like this won’t be open very often in the NBA, but this is a heady play by Claxton to read his defender ... and highlights his headiness on the court.

The defense isn’t pristine in this case, but the message holds true: Claxton is always looking to find the open spot on the court and he showcases a nice turnaround here. He is fast and comfortable moving out around the perimeter. If he’s able to slash off the ball, Nets guards will be able to find him. Think about Claxton slipping off an off-ball screen for a player like Joe Harris. That is where he is going to be dangerous.

While the Nets new big man and their incumbent center look similar on their surface, the pair’s games seem a bit different when you dig deeper. That being said, the two are definitely great shot blockers at a young age. Allen has made his name at this point in his career for his Afro and his shot blocking, but Claxton is a great weakside threat to block shots.

Claxton may at times over-commit to blocking the shot as a help-side defender. That could get him in trouble during the early stages of his career. The game is faster. While Claxton does have nice instincts off the ball, he sometimes loses his man.

What really stood out to me is how Claxton couples his shot blocking with his lateral quickness for a player of his height. He is not afraid to draw a switch on the pick-and-roll and stay with lead guards. He actually seems to welcome it.

When defending the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, Claxton allowed under .5 points per possession, placing him in the 92nd percentile among college players this past season. While the sample size isn’t overwhelming, it is still a sign of mobility and movement that will grow as he continues to fill his 6’11”(and 3/4”) frame. Below is another case of Claxton getting switched onto a ball handler. His lateral quickness permits him to stay in front and cause a turnover

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While the clip does highlight some of the good Claxton can do when out on an island, he did score poorly in isolation situations, allowing his opponent to shoot 15-of-27. It isn’t all there for Claxton yet as he does better hedging and switching on a screen. On his own in an isolation he tends to get caught reaching, which he was able to pull off, as seen above, or overpowered.

At the next level, Claxton isn’t going to be able to gamble on steals as he does on the entry pass to Grant Williams. He’d be left in the dust. He recovers nicely, but Williams is so strong that he’s able to put Claxton on his heels and end with a nice finish around Claxton’s outstretched arms. At his current weight, this is going to be where Claxton will have growing pains.

It’s possible that Claxton gets a good amount of time at the 4 in Atkinson’s spread out system and for the rookie to get stronger without the pressure of trying to get physical with more imposing centers. Claxton is a willing passer and has a good enough handle to meander around the three-point line, if not simply be a threat. Being the primary option at Georgia showed off his fine passing and ability to look for the extra man:

This won’t be the expectation in Brooklyn. He was selected to add some much needed depth to the front court and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he spends some time on Long Island if the Nets front court is too clogged and the organization wants him to get more reps. The Nets developmental program has been very successful to date and spending some time in the G League isn’t a demotion but rather a way for him to better see the floor.

Claxton/Allen lineups next season might be funky, but don’t be surprised if Atkinson tries it. Claxton has the ability to slide on the outside and also run downhill and meet shots at the rim. On offense, Claxton’s solid three-point mechanics can keep the floor spaced, but it may take some time. I’m not expecting “Thin Towers” to be a fixture of the rotation, but it might be worth a try as Claxton is as an archetypal stretch 4 ... or maybe even a 3. There are different outcomes with a project like Claxton. It will be interesting to see what the organization tries to do.

What Claxton provides as a second-round pick is a lot of versatility and talent that could’ve been masked while at Georgia the past two seasons. He was tasked with being too much of an initiator due to talent deficiencies on his roster. In Brooklyn, being a lower usage player, Claxton can thrive off his instincts as a cutter and emerging game.

As the Nets enter a major offseason where the roster may look very different in the next few days and week, the team still needs big men. Claxton gives the team an opportunity to gain some size but also the ability to continue to have a fairly amorphous roster with multi-positional players all around.

Marks said Friday morning that he’s “intrigued” by Claxton and won’t “pigeon-hole” him. Probably for the best, at least for now, before the development team gets its hands on him.

The Nets the front court right now consist of 21-year-old Jarrett Allen and a 20-year-old Nic Claxton. Two high upside guys who fit right in line with the trend of the league as rim running bigs, but what Claxton brings to the table is beyond high-flying dunks and blocks. He also has the ability to turn into a secondary playmaker with the right development.

And that is, as Marks says, intriguing.