When the season began, Brooklyn Nets fans had unusually high hopes for Nic Claxton, the former second-round pick in 2019. When the action first kicked off, it was Claxton who Nets head coach Steve Nash tapped to start in place of Kyrie Irving. The 6’11” big out of Georgia drew starts in the first three games of the year. But after appearing in just four games, he was ruled out with a non-COVID illness which has sidelined the 22-year-old ever since. Now he’s set for a return.
Here are 3 ways Nic Claxton’s return could boost the Nets rotation
3) The Nets need all the help they can get these days
There is apparently no end in sight to Kyrie Irving’s absence. With sharpshooter Joe Harris out for at least a month following ankle surgery, the Nets are down bodies. Paul Millsap has missed time for personal reasons. Bruce Brown recently dealt with a hamstring injury. It hasn’t always been smooth, but they have cobbled together enough wins to stay in first place through 21 games.
The Nets have been able to rely on LaMarcus Aldridge, and very recently, james johnson too. The former member of the Miami Heat drained two clutch freebies in a big win over the New York Knicks recently.
So even before we get into the things Claxton is good at, his mere presence will be welcome to a team in search of help any place they can find it.
With Kevin Durant and James Harden logging big minutes and major scoring burdens lately, anything which might help the team’s bench should provide much-needed relief.
Nic Claxton is back tonight after missing over a month with a non-COVID illness. Here he is getting pregame work in. pic.twitter.com/aHvfBiM9qG
— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) December 3, 2021
2) Blake Griffin is out of the rotation now
We alluded to Millsap, Harris, and Brown but one key holdover from a season ago who deserves his own section here is the former Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons star Blake Griffin. Griffin was recently told he would be out of the Nets rotation. He was shooting a ghastly 31.8 percent from the field and 16 percent from downtown before being benched to make room for players like LMA, DeAndre’ Bembry, James Johnson, and others.
For more on this, we debated whether or not Blake Griffin is washed on our debut “Nothing but Nets” podcast.
But there are not a ton of reliable bigs on this team. Claxton has been out for weeks, so will need time to increase his conditioning slowly. But in theory, his return could be very important with a long slog of a regular-season winter ahead.
Griffin was getting about 20 minutes every game when Claxton was last available. But without BG in the fold, coach Nash may turn to one of the bounciest members of his rotation for a spark.
Good morning Nets world, Nic Claxton plays basketball today 😈pic.twitter.com/Qz5qbfLHF6
— DJ⚫️⚪️ (@kingdj_5297) December 3, 2021
1) Nic Claxton has some skills that this team desperately needs
The Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves will enter their head-to-head tied for 7th overall in defensive rating (105.5). Both teams represent two major surprises in the top ten of that category. But Brooklyn doesn’t profile as an elite defensive team given their personnel. As terrific as Aldridge has been, he only logged nine minutes when the Golden State Warriors came to town. Aldridge is better suited to drop coverage, so the team could really use a big who’s a bit more comfortable playing far from the basket defensively for certain types of matchups.
The South Carolina native has the length and the agility to switch on some pick-and-rolls. He can do things out on the wing that the 36-year-old Aldridge can’t do at this stage of his career.
Claxton is also one of the Nets’ best help-defenders at the rim, deterring shots with his ability to jump, land, then get off the ground again in a hurry. He has length and a knack for contesting shots even after they have left a shooter’s fingers.
And we know James Harden is going to look for him on the lob after a pick-and-roll threat. That’s something the lineup has really missed in Claxton’s absence.
Nic Claxton may play basketball tonight for the first time in over a month.
He brings this team:
A lob threat (for James Harden)
Very versatile defender
Great length and sizepic.twitter.com/9QnQHVQ7Yu
— Brooklyn Netcast (@BrooklynNetcast) December 3, 2021
“Our rotations are pretty solid right now,” explained Steve Nash, referencing his first place (15-6) team. “So it’s not like he’s coming back to play 25 minutes a night, but we want to give him opportunities to grow and prove his fitness that he’s up to adapting back to the game and then worry about his performance as we go here. But right away we want to give him a chance to get back in the lineups and get some minutes.”
You can read between the lines that Claxton will not be a major rotation player in his first games back for the Nets. He may not even appear in both of the pending back-to-back. But it does sound like they have hopes that when he’s back in shape, he’ll resume being an integral member of what they hope is a championship-caliber rotation.
“We know he has ability,” said Nash. “And has a unique profile to our team, so his development is important but also I think that his ability adds something to our roster.”
A defense that has to worry about Kevin Durant and James Harden, as well as sharpshooters like Patty Mills, Joe Harris and LaMarcus Aldridge already has its hands full. But if they can return to the lineup a big who can roll and finish at the rim on offense, then switch out on the wing or block a shot on the other end might help take them to a level they’ve yet to reach.