Why Nicolas Claxton is the Key to a Brooklyn Nets Championship

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Mar 23, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Nicolas Claxton (33) swats the ball away from Portland Trail Blazers forward Derrick Jones Jr. (55) during the second half at Moda Center. The Brooklyn Nets won the game 116-112. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Although he doesn’t get the same attention that Brooklyn’s other stars do, Nicolas Claxton is the key to a Brooklyn Nets’ championship.

After the Nets acquired veterans,Blake GriffinandLaMarcus Aldridge, the common assumption was that each player would earn prominent roles in the rotation. And while each has played well in their given minutes so far, they each have flaws that are vulnerable to be exposed in the playoffs.

Luckily, the Nets have a potential solution: 21-year-old Nicolas Claxton. If the Nets play their cards right and make Claxton a staple of the rotation, they could very easily be on the road to their first NBA championship.

Defense Wins Championships

Mar 24, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) passes the ball away from Brooklyn Nets forward Nicolas Claxton (33) during the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Even though it’s a cliche, the saying is true: defense wins championships. Since the turn of the century, all but two NBA champions have boasted a top-10 defense. The Nets’ defense ranks a disappointing 25th and poses plenty of concerns come playoff time.

Luckily, there’s a solution to be found in Nicolas Claxton. The second-year athletic center has shown plenty of promise on the defensive end. 

In 359 minutes with Claxton on the court, the Nets post a 103.1 defensive rating, good enough for the league’s best. Without him, their defense ranks in the bottom 5 of the league. 

He’s not elite just yet but provides switchability, rim protection, and a body to throw on the eastern conference’s superstars. His potential is through the roof.

As Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo displayed last year in the bubble, defensive versatility becomes increasingly essential in the playoffs. Having a big man like Claxton who can protect the rim while containing quicker players on the perimeter helps make the Nets’ defense matchup-proof. 

Here, he neutralizes all-star guard Damian Lillard off a switch. It doesn’t show up in the stat sheet as a block or steal, but it’s tremendously valuable nonetheless. 

Contrarily, asking the slow-footed LaMarcus Aldridge to make the switch onto Lillard is nonsensical. Competent playoff offenses constantly attack opposing defensive weaknesses, especially from big men. The Nets won’t have that weakness with Claxton on the court. That alone will solve a world of problems on the defensive end.

Lack of Offense?

Mar 21, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Nicolas Claxton (33) dunks against Washington Wizards center Robin Lopez (15) and small forward Deni Avdija (9) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Claxton doesn’t strike a fan as an elite offensive big man. He averages just 7.2 points per game and is a poor shooter. Given Griffin and Aldridge’s histories as offensive stars, it’s easy to see why Claxton’s offense gets lost in the shuffle.

However, a slight offensive downgrade at the center position is a small price to pay for the Nets. What the Nets need from their frontcourt is defense, not offense.

As good as Griffin and Aldridge have proven to be, they won’t make or break the Nets’ offense, which features three of the best scorers ever. At this point, their offense is just a bonus to what is already the best offense of all-time (by offensive rating).

Besides, Claxton is far from a liability on the offensive end. If anything, he’s an ideal fit for Brooklyn. He doesn’t dominate paint touches and is comfortable as an off-ball piece, which works to the Nets’ advantage. 

His willingness to spend long periods of time without the ball is typically overlooked but a valuable trait that some players struggle to embrace. Claxton has had no problem doing that so far and has helped the Nets as a result. 

With Claxton at center, Irving, Harden, and Durant won’t need to sacrifice their much-needed touches and usage on offense. They can operate with freedom and ease. Claxton’s screen-setting, rim running, and lob finishing work perfectly alongside pick-and-roll ball handlers Irving and Harden. 

He doesn’t offer much individual offense in a vacuum, but he makes life easier for his superstar teammates. That matters in a playoff setting. Either way, Claxton’s slight offensive question marks are minuscule when considering how much the Nets need his valuable defense.

It Starts Now

Apr 1, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Nicolas Claxton (33) and Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington Jr. (25) at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season starting to wind down, these upcoming games serve as a golden opportunity for head coach Steve Nash. He can give Claxton a healthy number of minutes to work him into the rotation and allow him to develop the necessary experience.

After all, Claxton has played just 35 games in his short NBA career. He’s talented but still raw. Therefore, he must get the chance to develop before the Nets thrust him into crucial playoff games. Otherwise, Claxton’s immense talent and potential will be no match for this league’s experienced veterans.

Luckily, Nash recognizes Claxton’s potential and figures to act accordingly. However, his recent decrease in playing time is discouraging moving forward.

This next set of regular-season games will be very telling. If Claxton makes the most of his minutes and further proves his value, the Nets will have no choice but to give him extra playing time. Once they do that, the Brooklyn Nets will have found their key to an NBA championship: Nicolas Claxton.

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