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Nic Claxton looking like a steal ... and a ‘beast’

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Back in December 2017, while the Nets were in Mexico, Sean Marks traded Trevor Booker to Philly for Jahlil Okafor, Nick Stauskas and the Knicks second round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The possibility that the Nets could resurrect Okafor’s career was the big news back then, but some heard that Marks was more interested in the pick than the 6’11” Duke project.

Believing, accurately as it turned out, that the Knicks wouldn’t be very good for a while, Marks liked the idea of adding a high second rounder down the road. If you trust your scouts, you can get a first round talent for a second round price without having to worry about a cap hold, among other things.

As it turned out, the move was a smart one. The Nets had Nicolas Claxton at No. 18 on their internal mock, according to a team insider. And for reasons yet unexplained, Claxton fell on Draft Night despite the fact that he had been invited to the draft’s Green Room, one of only 22 prospects accorded that distinction. So, when the Knicks pick came up at No. 31, the first pick in the second round, the Nets happily took the near seven-footer with the thin frame.

Now, nearly two and a half years after the trade and nine months after the Draft, Brooklyn’s front office and coaching staff are very happy they took the Georgia product. Caris LeVert may be nicknamed “Baby Durant,” but Claxton is someone they think could back up KD in the future ... the near future.

Brian Lewis writes Thursday about how his teammates see Claxton. While Nets fans have seen only Claxton play 187 minutes in 15 games (unless they traveled to Uniondale for Long Island Nets games), the players have seen him every day in practice.

Spencer Dinwiddie’s comments about his future are well-known and might be hyperbole, but hey, he said it: ““Nic is the second-most talented player on this team,” {First] is KD, either the first or second-most talented scorer of all time. But Nic’s got game. He’s got a chance [to be great].”

Chris Chiozza, his teammate on both Brooklyn and Long Island, has had an even better perspective. He’s not as effusive as Dinwiddie but he knows talent when he sees it.

“Oh man, he’s a beast, especially when he got his hamstring better,” Chiozza told The Post. “He’s just a force down there with his athleticism and his length. He’s been killing down there [in the G-League], so I expect him to — when he gets a chance up here — to showcase what he can do.

“I’m sure he’s going to be a great player. He’s going to bring a lot of rim presence. And also his ability to rebound, he’s like an elite rebounder. He’s got a great motor. With that size, athleticism and having a motor, [there’s] not a lot of people like that. That really separates him.”

The Nets have taken it slow with Claxton who admittedly looked like a stick figure in his post-Draft press conference back in June. He’s been adding weight, improving his strength and skills, getting tutored by (unsung) big man coach Travon Bryant, and working out with the Nets other bigs. A hamstring injury set him back a bit but before the shutdown, he began to explode out in Uniondale.

As Lewis notes, his scoring average rose every month from 4.0 points per game in December to 15.5 to 16.7 to 21.7 in March. And as he went along, the 20-year-old began to trust his 3-point shooting more and more, finishing the truncated G League season at 55.6 percent (not a typo.) His best game came on March 4 when he exploded against the Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers affiliate...

One particular play showed just how talented he is and can be...

His G League coach, Shaun Fein, talking to our Chris Milholen, basically called Claxton the best player on the court whenever he’s in the G League.

“Nic is Nic,” Fein said about the Nets rookie. “I think he is the most talented guy on the court when he is with us in the G League. He does everything. Setting screens, rolls hard even if he is not getting it he is drawing people to give guys open shots.”

Indeed, as Lewis mentions, despite being one of the G League’s youngest players, he had its second-best Player Impact Estimate, an analytics tool that measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in.

The Nets’ faith in Claxton isn’t just based on his G League performances. In January, he had two games that showed his NBA potential. He posted 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes against the Bucks, then 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting against the Sixers, grabbing four boards and handing out two assists in just 17 minutes.

“It felt good, a good confidence boost knowing I can go out there and produce for my team. My name was called, and I just produced,” Claxton said back then. “Me going out and producing is just showing everybody — and me showing myself — that I can play at the highest level.”

More recently, Claxton had been working out with KD as this video, posted by Durant’s brother days before the shutdown, showed.

Claxton has spoken about spending more time with the 10-time All-Star this summer. “KD; his resume speaks for itself,” Claxton told NetsDaily with a big smile. “I look forward to working out with him this summer and I have spoken with him so we are good.”

In fact, Claxton has become a favorite of some of the team’s veterans.

Chiozza told Lewis. “[DeAndre Jordan] has been working with Nic a lot on [passing] and showing him some things. That’s his little rookie.”

Claxton has said that Kyrie Irving has been particularly helpful in his adjustment to the NBA.

“I have learned a lot from him. He has told me to read certain books and just preaching confidence and preaching certain things to me,” Claxton said. “When he was coming back from his shoulder injury the first time, we played three-on-three and he was just telling me different concepts so I have just been picking his brain.”

Whenever the Nets come back, whether in July or October or later, Brooklyn fans will be following Claxton’s career path. Expect the Nets to experiment with a small ball lineup that has Kevin Durant as a stretch 5 ... and Nicolas Claxton as his back-up.

Looks like that trade back in 2017 has worked out just fine.