As if Nic Claxton did’t have enough responsibilities already...
The fourth-year center is second in the league in blocks, whether you measure them by his per-game average of 2.5 or his season total of 176. Either way, he’s rejecting a ton of attempts in his campaign for some All-Defense, or perhaps Most Improved Player recognition.
This level of intimidation at the rim comes after Claxton has already established himself as the NBA’s premiere switch-big; calculator nerds and hoop purists alike can appreciate both the functional and aesthetic value of watching a gangly almost-seven-footer slide his feet, turn his hips, and leave explosive perimeter talents disheveled 20 feet from the basket. Darius Garland, as shifty as they come, had his own problems dealing with Claximum Security when the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Brooklyn Nets:
Claxton shutting down Garland again on a switch, this time ending it with a block: pic.twitter.com/G5wEy9iqet— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) March 24, 2023
But we are now fully aware of what he’s capable of on the defensive end. Descending from the rafters to reject layups, locking up guards in isolation, nothing surprises us anymore.
Likewise, Claxton’s offensive production is also at an all-time high. But there’s still a sense of mystery there. Does it feel like he’s fully unlocked on that end already? If not, what would the next steps look like? (And no, I’m not just talking about an improved free-throw percentage, although his 65% success rate since February started is a real improvement from the eye-gouging 47% it was before that. That new form seems to be paying dividends.) On a Brooklyn roster that will forever be searching for more offense for as long as they are together, Nic Claxton may be the resource to invest in.
While Claxton may not be the league leader in shooting percentage any longer (Walker Kessler, the Jazz rookie, recently moved ahead of him in that category), he is still above the 70% mark for the season, made only more impressive after considering the jump in shots outside the restricted area.
The University of Georgia product has also proven his durability: After missing significant time to injury and illness his first three years, Clax has played 2,073 minutes in 70 games this season, ranking 66th in the NBA. In his three seasons before this one, he had accumulated a grand total of just 1,755 minutes!
At Nets practice on Tuesday morning, both Claxton and his head coach, Jacque Vaughn, spoke about the big man’s gradual but noticeable improvement on the offensive end.
Claxton, when discussing the differences in his role in Brooklyn’s post-star era, simply stated “Offensively, I’m given a little bit more freedom having certain plays drawn up for me where I’m able to get to the rim and dunk on people. I’m figuring it out.”
Vaughn, when asked how much of his improvement is coming within the natural flow of the game vs. a concerted push from the coaching staff, credited “a little bit of both.”
He also dropped some encouraging hints that we may indeed see more responsibilities fall into Claxton’s hands: “That’s the coaching staff believing that he can push the basketball, he can [dribble handoff] the basketball, he can make decisions at the elbow. So that piece of it is because we’re gaining confidence in him. And I think that gives him confidence to defend on the other end for us, to be our rim protector for us and having confidence in him to make those plays without repercussions of it ‘might not go well.’ So I think that goes a long ways with a player.”
The next chance to see the Clax Attack in action is on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET, as the Nets will play host to the Houston Rockets.