Where does Nic Claxton rank among the league’s top centers?
It’s a Clax attack!
Brooklyn Nets center Nicolas Claxton is in the midst of a breakout season that has catapulted him into the upper-echelon of the association’s big men. He is not yet at the level of a Joel Embiid or a Nikola Jokic, but his newly minted status as a reliable force on both ends of the court can not be overlooked.
On the defensive end, Claxton has clearly taken a step forward. At the time of this piece, he holds the 3rd best defensive rating, and is 5th in terms of defensive win shares. Additionally he’s recorded the most blocks of any player this season, and is also averaging 8.9 rebounds per game.
The former Georgia Bulldog has become proficient at guarding isolation possessions both in the paint and on the perimeter when necessary. He’s by no means a pure perimeter defender, but one could argue he is becoming more advanced than other centers like Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Ayton, Mitchell Robinson, and Bam Adebayo in this regard. All-Star teammate Kevin Durant was sure to praise the 23-year old’s defensive growth when given the opportunity.
“Being that anchor as we expect him to be, that’s a tough transition from a young college player, young guy in the league to being on a team that is trying to play deep into the playoffs,” Durant told the New York Post. “You’ve got to be that anchor. He’s commanded a lot out there as a big, cutting to the ‘D’, switches, protecting the rim, rebounding the basketball. He’s done a lot for us.”
Offensively, Claxton is experiencing a career year. His 13.1 points per game are a personal best, and he leads the league in effective field goal percentage with a 74.1% clip. According to Cleaning the Glass, his points per shot attempt mark ranks in the 93rd percentile. Prior to this season, Claxton’s offensive skillset could best be described as one-dimensional. He’d grab a few alley-oops from time to time, but did not make a major difference in the Nets’ offense. Slowly but surely, Claxton has improved on the attack. He’s shown flashes of touch at the rim, a surprising aptitude for going coast-to-coast, and a propensity to grab cheap buckets and offensive boards under the right conditions.
Where Claxton falls short of bigs like Embiid, Jokic, and even Brook Lopez is that he does not possess a consistent jump shot. Of course, none of these players are sharpshooters, but they can burn you if they have an open look. Claxton is also not a particularly steady free-throw shooter. He’s currently a 47% shooter from the charity stripe, and is not someone you want to take a foul during a game’s closing minutes.
Even though the 6’11 center is not perfect, his willingness to grow has changed how both fans and opposing teams view him. Claxton is not at the level of Embiid or Jokic, but at his best, he can compete with some of the league’s best players at the position. He outplayed Jonas Valanciunas earlier this month in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, and held his own with Embiid just over a week ago during a tight loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Nicolas Claxton has arrived, and he knows the journey is still far from over.
“I don’t like to put a ceiling on myself, but I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface right now,” Claxton told Hoopshype. “I think I can be one of the best two-way players in the league in the right time and system. I’ll continue to work on my game, which I’ll continue to do in the summer and continue to grow.”