The list is alphabetical but the first name on ESPN’s 10 players “on the verge of a breakout” is Nic Claxton. And if there was a list of players who the Nets need to rely on, Claxton would be high on that list as well. And so far, so good.
“His professionalism, I think, has taken a step,” coach Steve Nash said Wednesday. “His attention to detail, his consistency, I think you see the benefits. It feels like he can play longer stretches at high intensity. He’s a little stronger, more physical in traffic. We’re just gonna keep growing his understanding of the game and situational awareness.”
Claxton looked good in Game 1, scoring 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting and grabbing four boards in 14 minutes. And he admits he likes the way he looks with his new haircut. No braids, no colors. It’s now more of a buzz cut ... natural, yes fresh.
“I just needed a fresh start,” Claxton said. “And I dyed it blonde and messed it up. I just wanted to have a fresh look.”
There will be a fresh look on the court as well. Claxton is the Nets starting 5 for the first time in his career, now into its fourth year. Jarrett Allen is gone. DeAndre Jordan is gone. LaMarcus Aldridge is gone. Blake Griffin is gone. Andre Drummond is gone. It’s him backed up by second year player Day’Ron Sharpe and veteran Marcus Morris whose career has been spent mostly at the 4. And the Nets who entertained the idea of trading him at last year’s deadline gave him a two-year, $17.5 million guaranteed deal.
Why not? Other than his 4-of-22 shooting from the line, including a 1-of-11 night, Claxton was one of the Nets few bright lights in the Celtics sweep of the Nets in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He averaged 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 24.5 minutes per game. If he had his regular season percentage of free throws — 58.1 percent — the 23-year-old and the Nets would have fared better. He has said that last season he was getting too much advice from too many people on his shooting. (Claxton didn’t get to the line in Game 1 vs. the Sixers.)
Offensively, Claxton sees his role on this year’s team as keeping defenses honest ... and taking advantage of having all those 3-point shooters on the perimeter.
“That’s gonna make my job a lot easier, just having those shooters, teams aren’t gonna be able to clog the lane as much,” Claxton said following Wednesday’s practice. “Last year, we had a few lineups where we didn’t stretch the floor as well, but this year having those guys out there is gonna open up the lane and it’s gonna be one-on-one.”
There also seems to be chemistry developing between Claxton and Simmons. Here’s some highlights from Monday’s game. The over-the-head pass from one 6’11” Net to another had to make Nets fans happy and hopeful.
As our Matt Brooks noted in his film study Thursday, Nic Claxton is “lob hungry” and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities.
“I love the way we’re playing on offense right now,” Claxton said after practice. “Like Steve said, the ball’s not sticking, we’re trying to have more motion. That’s gonna make us a lot tougher to guard. We have the talent, we have good shooters.
“Just me personally, I’m trying to make myself a threat as much as I can out there on the court, starting the break and doing what I do. Continue to build.”
Defensively, the requirements stay the same. He is the ultimate switcher, able to move from 1 to 5 easily and offer rim protection. While some fans think that the Nets may not have the depth at the 5, Sean Marks says he’s willing to give Claxton — and Sharpe — some time to prove their cases as legitimate bigs.
“If you notice, you just look at their bodies, they’ve changed and matured. And again, I don’t know if there’s gonna be last minute changes. It’s pro sports, things change pretty quickly,” said Marks at Media Day. “But at the end of the day, I’m excited to give Nic and Day’Ron a shot out there and see how they perform.”
- Nic Claxton shows Nets new look to go with improved work ethic - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Nic Claxton, sporting new look, seeks ‘fresh start’ with Nets - Ethan Sears - New York Post
- NBA preview 2022-23: 10 breakout candidates, including a former No. 1 pick and a EuroBasket phenom - Nick Friedell - ESPN