Nic Claxton is on fire of late. Saturday night was his ninth double-double of the season and he blocked six Raptors shots, a career high.
Asked about how he’s been able to play at such a high level, Claxton told Meghan Triplett of YES Network he believes he deserves more respect, including being in the so-called conversation for Defensive Player of the Year...
“It’s just me being me,” Claxton told Triplett. “Honestly, I feel that I am one of the best defenders in the league. I feel I should be in the talk for the Defensive Player of the Year. I feel like I wasn’t getting the respect I deserve. We’re winning, my numbers are good protecting the rim, guarding 1 through 5.
“So, it’s just me being me, bringing energy and it’s great for the team,” he added.
Setting his sights on the DPOY may seem a bit far-fetched to some, but the near 7-foot, 23-year-old is second in the league in blocks at 2.3 per game behind Brook Lopez. He’s now averaging nearly nine rebounds to go along with his nearly 12 points.
He’s growing more consistent as well.
Over the last 10 games the Nets have played (Claxton missed two), he’s averaging 2.8 blocks as well as 12.3 points and 9.4 rebounds. He’s had four double-doubles, a game of 9 and 14 and another of 15 and 9. In four games, he had three or more blocks.
The field for DPOY, of course, is always tough with wings and points often succumbing to bigs. Ask Ben Simmons who finished behind only Rudy Gobert two years ago. Perennial favorites Marcus Smart, Mikal Bridges, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo and Gobert are all back, too.
Of course, not everyone has disrespected his game. Zach Lowe of ESPN wrote this last week about the Nets:
[T]he unsung hero is Nicolas Claxton. Claxton has been dynamic enough on offense to inspire some faith in Claxton-Simmons lineups — the Nets only road map to viable defense and rebounding. Claxton can corral guards on switches or barricade the rim in conservative schemes; opponents are shooting just 53% at the basket with Claxton nearby. He’s not strong enough to plug Brooklyn’s rebounding leakage, but he is snaring defensive boards at a career-best rate...
On offense, Claxton is a solid rim-runner and lob-catcher with a knack for cutting at the right time. He’s a canny screener, mixing hard hits and darting slips that force switches.
Indeed, Claxton leads the NBA in shooting percentage (74.1%) as well as effective percentage (74.4%). He’s also made improvements, if up and down, in his free throw shooting. He hit two when they counted Friday night and was 5-of-8 for the game.
And Kyrie Irving, the hero of Friday night, took time post-game to praise Claxton:
Kyrie Irving talks about Nic Claxton's defensive effort tonight, totaling a career-high 6 blocks vs. the Raptors:— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) December 17, 2022
"When Nic's telling me to get out of the way so he could get blocks, I know we're in for a good active night from him" pic.twitter.com/ZXB10ZyzlN
When Sean Marks signed Claxton to a two-year, $20 million — including performance incentives, there was some griping in the fanbase about whether he would be worth it (although most fans were then more focused on Kevin Durant’s trade request.) There were indeed questions: after all, Claxton had missed more games than he played in his first three years. So far, though, the investment looks like a smart one.