Early returns for Nic Claxton prove he’s the Brooklyn Nets answer at center

Nic Claxton (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Nic Claxton (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Prior to this season, the Brooklyn Nets had taken a center-by-committee approach to the position, but that appears to have changed with the emergence of Nic Claxton. Last season, the team trotted out the likes of Nic Claxton, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap, and LaMarcus Aldridge, with mixed results. Some were better than others, but, given their age, only Claxton was projected to have a future with the team.

That looks to be the case now, with him being the only remaining center from last season. With him now set as the team’s starter, the fifth-year player is finally coming into his own. Three games is obviously a small sample size, but things appear to be finally clicking for Claxton, and that’s fantastic news for the Nets.

Nic Claxton’s improvements are huge for the Brooklyn Nets

What made Claxton stand out coming out of Georgia was his speed and mobility for his size. In today’s NBA, where traditional centers who camp out around the rim aren’t nearly as valuable as they once were, his defensive versatility gives the Nets an edge. That could come in handy when the Nets go up against two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

He proved to be surprisingly up to the challenge of defending Antetokounmpo and made him work to get buckets in their preseason matchup. That, of course, bodes well for the Nets since they’re in the same conference as the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Bucks are the same team that beat them in the 2021 East Semi-Finals en route to an NBA title.

Better yet, with an improved Claxton paired with Royce O’Neal, Kevin Durant, and Ben Simmons in the starting lineup, the Nets’ defense suddenly looks to be a lot more dangerous. Few teams can say that they’re starting three players that are at least 6’10 and their size and length should translate to defensive success.

This is despite the Nets being thought of as mostly an offensive team, with Durant coming off a career season in which he averaged 30 points and Kyrie Irving being a combustible scorer. Claxton can contribute on that end too. Playing with two stars helps draw attention away from him, allowing him to garner easy baskets.

He’s currently averaging 16 points on 75% shooting, mainly by hiding away in the dunker spot and simply catching and finishing when his defender helps on drives or in the pick-and-roll. He can even serve as a release valve when the pick-and-roll ballhandler is trapped in the halfcourt by driving from the 3-point line to the basket and finishing with an athletic lay-in.

Better yet, he’s a good offensive rebounder who claws his way toward extra possessions for the Nets. He doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel offensively as a center, but he’s highly effective in several areas, allowing him to shoot a high percentage on a limited number of shots.

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All in all, Nic Claxton has gotten off to a strong start, and his improvement on both sides of the ball only raises the Nets’ ceiling. As a result, Claxton is proving why he’s the Brooklyn Nets’ center of the future.