Nic Claxton is large motive why the Nets have performed effectively these days

Nic Claxton

Nic Claxton
Photograph: Getty Photographs

Thursday night time’s playoff rematch between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets shall be like many big-time NBA regular-season matchups — incomplete.

Kevin Durant is at present out with an MCL sprain, and Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable after struggling an adductor damage through the Celtics’ Wednesday night time victory towards the New Orleans Pelicans.

The sport will nonetheless have Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum — barring any final minute adjustments — however a participant who shall be value watching as a lot as the celebs is rising star Nic Claxton.

He’s at present enjoying the perfect basketball of his four-season profession. Claxton is at present averaging 11.9 factors per recreation and eight.3 rebounds, whereas additionally main the NBA in blocked photographs per recreation (2.6) and subject objective proportion (73.8).

Of all of the issues that the Nets had off the courtroom originally of the season, their basketball weak spot was thought-about to be dimension and protection. The Nets let one in every of their finest defenders — Bruce Brown — stroll in free company. WIth Durant getting old, and an undersized backcourt, it was affordable to imagine that except Ben Simmons may guard each place on the identical time, the Nets would have a beneath common NBA protection.

For many who had been doubtful on the Nets’ protection previous to the beginning of this season, they forgot about Claxton. Throughout final season’s embarrassing first-round efficiency that resulted within the Nets getting swept by Celtcs, Claxton and a handful of different function gamers helped maintain these video games shut. He didn’t begin within the sequence, however nonetheless performed 24.5 minutes per recreation. When he was on the ground the Nets defensive score improved by 9.4 factors per 100 possessions.

That sequence was merely a glimpse of Claxton’s versatile defensive arsenal. He’s now their beginning middle and wonderful within the paint. Of gamers who’ve six or extra photographs tried towards 6 ft or much less from the rim towards them per recreation, solely Jaren Jackson Jr. is holding opponents to a decrease field-goal proportion.

Claxton can also be nice on the perimeter. The Nets change every little thing on protection, and one motive they’re profitable doing so is Claxton’s capacity to protect perimeter gamers. A group that generally has Irving, Seth Curry, and Joe Harris on the ground on the identical time is at present eighth in defensive score. That doesn’t occur with out lengthy gamers who can change. The Nets have a number of, and their finest is likely to be Claxton.

His greatest weak spot is his free throw capturing. Claxton shot 60-plus throughout every of the final two months of the earlier common season, so there was hope that he was bettering. This season he’s capturing 45.9 % from the free-throw line. That offers the Nets two key contributors in him and Ben Simmons who shoot below 50 % from the charity stripe.

It hasn’t sunk the offense but. The Nets nonetheless have the third-best offensive score within the league. Despite the fact that Claxton is a poor NBA free-throw shooter, he’s nonetheless averaging a career-high in factors per recreation. Certain he can catch the lob, however his whole low-post recreation is considerably higher than it was final season, which is why he’s main the league in field-goal proportion. In 2021-22 he made 14.3 % of his makes an attempt from 5 to 9 ft away from the rim. This season, he’s changing at 45.4 % from that distance.

With out Durant for a couple of weeks, it will likely be a battle for the Nets to proceed their latest surge up the Japanese Convention standings. Nonetheless, with Claxton enjoying like a Most Improved Participant candidate, the Nets know that if they’re wholesome when the postseason arrives, they’ve pretty much as good an opportunity as any group within the East to make the NBA Finals.