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Reliving Nic Claxton’s G League dominance

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Greensboro Swarm vs Long Island Nets Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II /NBAE via Getty Images

Nic Claxton made quite the impression in his shortened rookie season with the Brooklyn Nets. While he played in only 15 games for Brooklyn, his domination with the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn’s G League affiliate, quickly made the 2019 second rounder a fan sensation.

Take it from Shaun Fein, the head coach of Long Island. Fein, who played 13 seasons in France before starting his coaching career, viewed the Nets rookie as the “most talented guy” down there.

“Nic is Nic,” Fein said about the near 7-footer. “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.”

In addition to quickly catching the attention of the Nets organization and their fanbase as a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft, he certainly caught the attention of Brooklyn’s superstars: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic put the sports world at halt, Claxton hinted that he has summer workout arrangements with Durant.

“KD; his resume speaks for itself,” Claxton said with a big smile. “I look forward to working out with him this summer and I have spoken with him so we are good.”

As from Irving, Claxton has been a student of the game, absorbing knowledge from one of the league’s most skilled players.

“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.”

With high praise and a bright future ahead for the 21 year-old, let’s take a look back at Claxton’s domination in the G League.

Claxton made his G League debut on December 9, with DeAndre Jordan, Dzanan Musa, Theo Pinson, David Nwaba, and Caris LeVert sitting courtside. Only six minutes in, Claxton headed to the locker room, suffering a hamstring injury, ending his night with four points on 2-of-5 shooting (0-of-1 from deep). He also had one rebound and one assist.

The former Georgia Bulldog returned to Uniondale a month later on Jan. 11 and showed everyone that his hamstring was healed and his G League domination began.

The Nets rookie duo of Claxton and Jaylen Hands combined for 36 points off the bench, snapping a four-game losing streak. Claxton ended his first full game with Long Island with a 20-10 double-double, tacking on one block, one assist, and one steal in 22 minutes of play. He shot 7-of-10 from the field and went 2-of-2 from deep.

Chris Chiozza, who played alongside Claxton in Long Island and in Brooklyn, offered a bright perspective on the talent the rookie brings to the Nets organization.

“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.”

Claxton’s next memorable performance in the G League came on February 21 when Long Island needed him most. The teams playoff hopes were quickly slipping away.

After being assigned earlier in the week, the forward unleashed, recording a double-double of 21 points, 12 rebounds to go along with three blocks, two steals, one assist, and one turnover, all in 19 minutes of play. The 20 year-old shot 8-of-10 overall and did not attempt a three. He shot 3-of-4 from the charity strike as well and finished the win +34.

Claxton remained down in Uniondale to help Long Island’s late season playoff push. It was on March 5 when Claxton went beast mode on the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers G League affiliate.

The then 20 year-old set a new career-high with 34 points to go along with nine rebounds, and four assists in 27 minutes of play.

His career-high performance lifted Long Island’s winning streak to three games. At that stage, the team was sitting at 19-21 on the season, with 10 games to go.

On his career-high night, Claxton certainly had the green light from deep. He went 3-of-5 from three and following the game, he noted how 3-point shooting is one of the biggest priorities for him. The 20 year-old was shooting 55.6 percent from deep when the G League season was cancelled. The sample was small but the improvement was big. Claxton had shot 30.2 percent in his second and last season at Georgia.

“That is going to be huge,” Claxton said about 3-point shooting. “That is one of the biggest things for me. I got consistency in my jump shot so I got to stay in the gym and keep working.”

Outside of his stellar offensive domination, Claxton accepted the challenge down low against the Blue Coats strong arsenal of bigs: Christ Koumadje (7’3”), Doral Moore (7’1”), and Dennis Clifford (‘7’1”).

“Nic is a really good player,” Fein said post-game. “He takes the challenge every time he steps on the floor. He ended with 34 and nine, got to the free throw some times, and hit three 3s. He was really efficient in 28 minutes.

“He is a heck of a player and we are happy to have him here. I do not know how much longer we will have him but we will take advantage when we do.”

Claxton remained down in Uniondale for their final two games. The 20 year-old tacked on another 20+ performance (team-high 23 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and one block in 28 minutes as a starter), two days following his career-high night.

Long Island’s final game of the 2019-20 season was their toughest loss of the season, Claxton had a quiet night, scoring eight points and eight rebounds. Three days later, on March 12, the G League suspended and eventually cancelled the remainder of their season. Long Island had eight games remaining with slim playoff hopes.

The 6’11 (and 3/4)” forward ended his time with Long Island with 21.3 minutes, 16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game. He had appeared in nine games, starting in five.

His rookie season was a “roller coaster season” but in a good way. As he described it, he does not regret leaving Georgia early. His development on and off the court, including on Long Island, had made it worth it.

“It’s definitely been a roller coaster season,” Claxton said. “I learned a lot though. I am happy to be here and I am happy I left college. I’m definitely in a good spot so I just been trying to be a sponge to all the vets on my team and learn wherever i’m at. Just trying to stay locked in and take advantage of my opportunities.”

With that being said, the development of Claxton is a bright light for the Nets organization. There are issues, as he notes, that will have to be addressed: his 3-point shooting, his strength, his durability. But his time on Long Island has given fans a snapshot of what he can be.

After this season ends, Claxton will be under contract for another two years. As Sam Vecenie wrote for The Athletic earlier this month. “He’s right along the track I thought he would be at this stage. I’d anticipate that next year he’ll play a bit more of a role. By his third year, he will likely be a genuinely useful part of the Nets’ rotation as they’re competing.”