Coming off what Kyrie Irving described as an “embarrassing” sweep against the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets’ front office got to work and bolstered the rotation.
That loss could largely be attributed to a lack of versatility and size, and so Brooklyn’s response of recruiting (and trading for) a platoon of wing-sized players including T.J. Warren, Royce O’Neale, Markieff Morris, and Yuta Watanabe was largely received as a massive victory among the fanbase.
That said — to some, at least — there are certain holes still to fill. Maybe most glaring of all is Brooklyn’s center rotation—which right now only includes a newly minted Nic Claxton and second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe as nominal bigs. Together, you’re looking at an average age of 21.5 years old at center on a veteran-laden team... quite surprising.
Experience and age aside, Sean Marks was vocal about just how much he believes in Brooklyn’s existing center rotation at Media Day.
“I‘m looking forward to seeing Nic and Day’Ron out there and see what they can do. I mean, they’ve put in the time with our coaching staff this summer and really putting in long hours. So 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. “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.”
Claxton is the likely candidate for the starting center position after inking a two-year, $20 million deal (including incentives) this off-season. He’s showed promise in his three years with the Nets, almost immediately establishing himself as one of the best switch-bigs in the NBA who’s capable of guarding a multitude of assignments (like All-NBA talents Luka Doncic and Trae Young, just to name a few), and he’s improved greatly at screening-and-rolling duties throughout his Brooklyn tenure as well.
Health has been the major hindrance to his development, dealing with shoulder surgery two seasons ago and then a non-COVID illness that kept him sidelined for a significant portion of last season. To avoid another year of missed time and slowed progression, he’s worked hard on his body to maintain maximum availability on the court.
“I’ve been working this whole summer. It’s working on my body just making sure I’m available (so) I can put together a lot of games,” said Claxton. “I’m excited for the year. I have a bigger role next year and I’m ready to get to work.”
And it appears that off-season work is paying off... he feels better than ever heading into training camp.
“This time, I’ve just been able to just work — been in the lab. I was out in L.A. and this is definitely the best that I’ve felt, so I’m ready to get to it,” said Claxton on Media Day.
Claxton also addressed his shooting woes, which reared their ugly head at the worst time against the Boston Celtics, famously missing 18 of his 22 total free throws in the 1st-round enroute to breaking a record previously held by Shaquille O’Neale for poor performance at the charity stripe.
Interestingly, Claxton mentioned that he tinkered with his form throughout last season. This summer, it appears he’s settled in on a shot that he’s comfortable with.
“Just finding a consistent shot last year, I changed my formula,” said Claxton. “So this summer, just really just working on finding something that I’m comfortable with that I can go into the year and shoot with confidence.”
Meanwhile, 20-year-old (until November) Day’Ron Sharpe could be looking at a major promotion in the rotation as Brooklyn’s backup center after playing just 391 total minutes last season as a rookie.
“I’m ready for it if I gotta play more minutes. I’m ready. I’ve been working out all summer, every day, non-stop,” said Sharpe. “So whenever my time is, I’m ready to compete.”
Surprisingly, one on the Nets — players and staff included — were asked about the off-discussed possibility of Ben Simmons manning the center position. At 6’11” could feasibly handle those duties due to stature and defensive pedigree alone. Seth Curry did, however, mention that during their time in Philadelphia, he implored Doc Rivers to give Simmons some minutes at the 5. So maybe similar conversations will trickle into Brooklyn’s locker room.
“We didn’t do it much, a couple of times,” said Curry about Simmons playing center in Philadelphia. “I was trying to get Doc to do it a lot. But we didn’t do much, but when we did, it was pretty fun.”
Newcomer Markieff Morris, who played 24 percent of his total minutes at center with the Miami Heat last season, also was not asked about the possibility of playing as the small-ball 5-man. Though due to his experience within that specific role, running him at center is conceivably at Brooklyn’s disposal should its younger options look a little green.
He did talk about his reputation as an enforcer however. When Kristian Winfield asked about his reputation as a “sorta tough” player, Morris leaned forward, his eyes bulging, and responded to great laughter, “KINDA tough!?”
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