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The Bridge: How Nic Claxton went from ‘sleeper’ draft pick to top NBA defender

He suffered through low expectations, injuries and illness, but finally, Nic Claxton has become who he hoped to become.

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There’s not much left to say about Nic Claxton’s breakthrough season, but on Tuesday, the Nets published an 18-minute video on how the near 7-footer turned his career around and helped his team transition after the deadline trades, becoming a consistent NBA defender and showing offensive potential.

In interview after interview and snippets of commentary from Jacque Vaughn’s post-game and practice sessions, the 23-year-old is praised for his professionalism and sheer talent. As Doris Burke of ESPN tells the Nets video team, she takes “incredible joy” in watching Claxton’s development...

Although Claxton may not make his goal of winning Defensive Player of the Year this season, his stats make him unique and not just for this season, this team...

Indeed, Claxton played in career-high 76 games, finishing second in field goal percentage, blocks, blocks per game, “stocks” aka steals and blocks, “stocks” per game. In each category, he finished ahead of Rudy Gobert ... and Jarrett Allen.

“There’s no mystery to success if you’re a role player in the NBA,” Burke tells The Bridge. “It’s about your work habits. It’s about your commitment. Are you about the team? Are you about the right things? Players, coaches, everyone with the Nets talks about how he lived in the gym this summer and his professionalism went through the roof.

“I get incredible joy watching Nic Claxton who has now become this viable, two-way force.”

She is not alone.

Now, of course, Claxton will be called about to the lynchpin in the Nets defense on Joel Embiid, the current favorite for MVP who also wants to be an NBA champion.

Doc Rivers certainly understands what he can bring.

“Well, he’s great at the rim,” Rivers said. “He’s also one of the few bigs that can switch on guards and keep guards in front. You gotta get a shoulder in his chest — [against] all shot blockers, you have to do that. And then on offense, he rolls. He’s a great roller. We’ve got to try not to let him get behind our defense.”

All of what The Bridge episode reports on, from his physicality to his professionalism, will be tested and on the big stage. It will be his game to prove.