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Nic Claxton, star of Nets development process, wants more

Other than Mikal Bridges, Nic Claxton was the Nets big surprise this season ... in a good way.

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The quick fix in the NBA is often the easy one. A team blows up its roster to get a star or superstar, someone already in the league pantheon. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But improvement can also come via different route, like when a player has an epiphany, a revelation that unless things change, the golden dream of the NBA will be lost, forever. Often, that’s more satisfying for the players and the organization. There’s a word for it: development.

Nic Claxton is currently the poster boy for development in Brooklyn which has seen other players follow a similar route, whether it’s Joe Harris or Spencer Dinwiddie or Jarrett Allen.

Last week, Clax didn’t win the two awards he had set his eyes on: Defensive Player of the Year or Most Improved Player, but he was in the conversation for the two highly competitive awards throughout the season. He finished 10th in the DPOY voting and fifth, just behind teammate Mikal Bridges, in the MIP balloting. In the former, there were only two players younger than Claxton among the nine players who got more votes while in the latter, none of the four above him in the balloting are younger.

In his 76 games this season, the Georgia product who was was the 31st pick in the 2019 Draft made enormous progress. He led the league in shooting percentage at 70.5%, and was second in blocks (189), blocks per game (2.5), and “stocks,” aka steals and blocks (247) as well as finishing third in “stocks” per game (3.28). He was also one of only two players to register 150 blocks and 50 steals. And to top it off, he became the first player in NBA history to average better than 10 points a game, 2.5 blocks and shoot better than 70.0% in a season. You could make an argument that his spectacular rise may have caught some voters off-guard. He wasn’t among the usual suspects.

To his credit, he put in the hours and the effort last summer, working with personal trainer Tim Martin in Texas and assistant coach Ryan Forehan-Kelly both there and in Brooklyn. After his summer of urgency, he played more minutes in this, his fourth year, than he did in his first three years combined, all of which added to his confidence. Ask Joel Embiid.

“I think the biggest piece going forward, I will say, just staying healthy, just being available, being out there getting reps. Availability is the best ability,” he said last Sunday.

To the Nets credit, they believed in him enough last summer to give him a two-year $20 million contract, $18.3 million of which was guaranteed. (He also picked up $850,000 in incentives, per Bobby marks.) They didn’t wait and see what the market was. They gave him his money upfront, didn’t wait to match another team’s offer.

“We saw players take their games to new heights. We saw players that maybe we didn’t expect to have the type of roles ahead really exceed them,” Sean Marks said last Sunday in his end-of-the-season press conference when asked about positives in a disappointing season.

“I talked to Nic Claxton, and he’s ready for another big offseason because he saw the benefits of what he did last offseason. I’m obviously biased, but he should be in the running for the Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year. He should be running for a lot of things. I mean, I’m really proud of what Nic accomplished, and that started this time last year.”

Claxton was positive as well about what he can do, talking about adding muscle getting stronger, being more of an offensive presence.

“I mean I’m just blessed, man. At the end of the day, things didn’t end how we wanted it to but as I reflect, I’m just blessed to be healthy, blessed to be in this position. Obviously these first four years it’s been a whirlwind as everybody knows, but just trying to stay solid as I can be for myself, for the organization. I’m here and I want to continue to grow.”

What might a more experienced, stronger Nic Claxton look like? Back in January, he became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds on 80 percent shooting from the field over a seven-game span. He also averaged three blocks in that stretch.

In the meantime, the near 7-footer will be back in gym in Brooklyn, working with Martin again in Texas and at the end of June, he’ll be in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his parents grew up, running a “Hoop Smart” youth basketball camp on St. Thomas with B.J. Johnson, the Nets director of collegiate scouting and the scout who argued most vociferously for Brooklyn to draft him four years ago.

Then, it will back to the grind in hopes of getting better, being an all-around contributor, improving his free throw shooting, ultimately getting ready for a big payday in July 2024.

“Definitely,” Claxton said. “This year, I kind of kicked the door down, just showed everybody that I’m here, put my name on the map. But now it’s just about consistency and taking it to another level. My expectations, they do go up, and I’m expecting a lot out of myself. But at the end of the day, that’s where you get in the gym and just put the work in. All of that stuff will take care of itself.”