The Brooklyn Nets’ Nicholas Claxton is earning rave reviews as his megastar teammates, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and now the recently signed five-time All-NBA veteran, Blake Griffin, attract most of the fans’ and media’s attention.
Claxton, in his second year after being selected by the Nets in the first round—31st overall—in 2019 out of the University of Georgia, has had several impressive performances after the All-Star break. Sunday’s game was one of them as the 6-foot-11 center scored 16 points in 26 minutes, helping the Nets defeat the Washington Wizards 113-106 at the Barclays Center.
With 30 seconds left in a closely contested game, Claxton was fouled while converting an alley-oop dunk off of an assist from Irving. His free-throw gave the Nets a 111-106 advantage. It was Irving’s sixth assist to accentuate his 28 points.
“It felt good when Kyrie passed me the ball,” said Claxton after Brooklyn’s 29th win of the season, their seventh in eight games. “I guess I’ve got to get used to that. I’m used to him shooting.” Claxton is growing into a much needed reliable front court rotation player for the Nets after their former rising young center Jarrett Allen was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the deal that brought Harden to Brooklyn.
“My name was called tonight and I was ready to go,” said the Greenville, South Carolina native.
Harden, who spends time working with Claxton, said the developing big man is “comfortable and confident” on the court. When a young guy doesn’t worry about anything but playing hard and doing his job to the best of his ability, good things happen for him,” commented Harden. “That’s what we’re seeing out of Nick. He listens and he goes out there and watches film and he does his job, every single night.”
Claxton, turning only 22 next month, was activated in February after rehabbing from right knee tendinopathy, a condition in which the tissue that connects muscle to bone becomes inflamed. That and a shoulder injury interrupted his rookie season, as well as the beginning of this one.
In his fourth and fifth games back earlier this month, Nets’ victories over the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, Claxton dropped 17 and 16 points respectively, showing signs of his confidence and progress.
“It feels good to be back in the trenches,” he said after the 124-113 March 1 road win over the Spurs, which kicked off a six-game winning streak.
“He’s somebody that we believe in, and think he’s got a lot of upside,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. Recognizing Claxton’s potential but also his inexperience, Nash acknowledged the team needs to “take it step-by-step with him.”
The Nets began a three-game road trip March 23 against the Portland Trailblazers without Irving, who is out for the second time this season due to personal reasons. The team is also still missing Durant, who has been sidelined since straining his hamstring Feb. 13 versus the Golden State Warriors. Prior to facing the Blazers, the Nets were 29-14, one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
They were at the Utah Jazz last night (March 24), will play the Pistons in Detroit tomorrow and return home on Monday to host the Minnesota Timberwolves.