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Nic Claxton understands what’s expected and knows he has to get better

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In a remarkable display of transparency, Nicolas Claxton tells Brian Lewis that yes, fatigue IS a problem for him and has been. He also says he will fix it.

“I look at myself in the mirror. I’m supposed to be one of the better defensive players on the team,” said Claxton before Friday night’s win in Philly. “I had a few mental lapses last game (a 127-104 season-opening loss to the Bucks). My fatigue, it showed too much. I think that definitely starts with me. I need to be better on the defensive end and we’re going to get better. It’s only one game.”

Claxton was surprisingly inserted in the starting lineup by Steve Nash and the results have been less than sterling. Although he put up 12 and 7 in Game 1, the eye test wasn’t as good as the stats, particularly on defense. And in Game 2, he had only three and three and although there was progresss, he’ll need to get more done if he is to retain that starter’s role ... and help the Nets.

I know I do,” Claxton said. “I had a play, for instance, where I got a hit on Giannis [Antetokounmpo], but I didn’t hit him hard enough. He just caught the ball and dunked. To me, that’s soft. I look at myself in the mirror and I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better on the boards. Just as a collective effort, we’ve got to do a better job of hitting.”

Of course, Antetokounmpo is Antetokounmpo and Claxton needs not just conditioning but bulk and experience. Steve Nash said that indeed there are issues, but things are improving.

“It’s a long season,” Claxton said before Friday’s game. “I didn’t get too many preseason games in. I’ll get better. My conditioning will get better. That’s going to be a big piece of my development this year.”

“Yeah, everything you said is true,” Nash said of the third-year big man before the Sixers game. “A little bit of conditioning — he’s still got a ways to go, but his conditioning is improving. The size and matchups, we took a look at that, just be a little bit bigger to start, explore the bigger lineups. He is a roller for James, which is another positive. But again, it’s just it’s a lot of experimenting at this point still.”

Of course, Claxton is being asked to take on a number of roles in his new job. As he notes, it’s different from what he was doing last season when he emerged as a fan favorite because of his defense.

“Right now I’m starting the game on a guard, so it’s different,” Claxton told The Post. “It’s the first time that I’ve done this in my career, and it’s something that I’ll adjust. … That’s what makes great players great, they’re able to adjust on the fly. And like I said, once my conditioning picks up, everything will come together.”

Kevin Durant and James Harden, who’s encouraged Claxton, believe that he’ll have to improve on the offensive end as well.

“We need that from him, especially playing with [Harden], who’s looking up trying to make those passes,” KD said. “This is his third year in the league, another level he wants to step up into and we’re expecting that from him.”

“He reminds me of Clint [Capela], but with more skill offensively,” Harden said recently, referring to his former Rockets teammate ... who wound up with a $90 million contract. Harden has been a big Claxton proponent on the court as well as in interviews, Offensively, Claxton is 5-of-6 on lobs, 3-of-4 on dunks, and 4-of-9 on layups, all buckets assisted by James Harden, per Billy Reinhardt.

The Nets are obviously hoping their near 7-footer will get it together, get beyond the fatigue and resulting mistakes. He understands that.

“A lot of times when you’re fatigued it leads to mental mistakes,” Claxton told Lewis. “Just being able to put together longer stints without getting tired (is the key).”

Why is his conditioning off. As he’s noted, he had a short preseason, losing time to what he described as a “little sickness” NOT the result of a positive COVID test. Not to mention, he’s had some bad luck over the course of his short career, with injuries to his shoulder and his shoulder. As Lewis notes, he played only 15 games for Brooklyn in his rookie year, then just 32 last season, a total of 927 minutes in his entire NBA career.

Claxton not only needs to improve for his team. He is in the final year of a three-year, $4.2 million deal. He’ll be a restricted free agent come July, meaning the Nets can match any deal he may get from another team. He and they passed on a four-year, $52 million extension this summer.

On the other hand, if the Nets are looking at Claxton’s trade value, not surprisingly, it remains high, as Michael Scotto reports for Hoopshype Sunday. In fact, an anonymous NBA executive told Scotto he wouldn’t be surprised if Claxton got moved.

“I think Claxton’s a guy that could get moved,” said the executive who spoke with HoopsHype. “They’ve got a lot of veterans they can play over him that came there to play and win a championship. I think they end up moving him if they need a piece. I like him. He’s young and skilled. He just needs to go to a place where he’ll get a lot of opportunities. Brooklyn’s tax bill is going to be ridiculous coming up. If they figure they can get someone as productive as him, and I think they drafted Day’Ron Sharpe with that in mind, to fill his role at a lower salary number.”