With the remainder of the 2019-2020 NBA season up in the air, it’s never too early to start thinking what may lie ahead for the Nets. Will Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving return if competitive play resumes by July? Probably not, though that doesn’t mean a possible playoff appearance would go to waste.
Consider this: With Brooklyn’s superstar duo sidelined and little to hope to advance deep into the postseason, assuming one takes place, why not throw Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Nicolas Claxton into the heat of the action? All three have displayed the potential to be major factors for the future of the franchise, and the latter may be the most intriguing piece of the young core.
While many assumed Claxton would spend the majority of his first go-round honing his craft in the G-League, the spindly frontcourt talent spent the year hopping back and forth between the Long Island Nets and the big league club. The 20-year-old second-rounder, though relatively raw in multiple areas, proved a viable contributor at the next level.
Throughout his 15 NBA appearances, Nic flashed the ability to stretch the floor, operate as a rim protector, and showed a tantalizing amount of touch as a finisher. As encouraging as his brief stints with Brooklyn were, Claxton was an absolute terror in the G-League, a true man among boys. Had he suited up more than nine times for Long Island, his 32.3 PER would have been a new single-season G-League record.
With that in mind, how could the Nets possibly benefit from forcing their promising rookie to ride the pine come postseason? This decision grows more puzzling when the players preceding him on the depth chart hardly figure to fit into the picture in any significant way going forward.
Taurean Prince signed a two-year $29M extension back in October, but his poor performance and limited upside make it tough to envision him offering meaningful minutes to a title contender. Dealing Prince for a favorable return won’t be easy, nevertheless getting him off the books as soon as possible would be an addition by subtraction.
As for expiring veteran Wilson Chandler, the combo forward showed enough to warrant an offer for a reasonably low price tag in a mentorship and emergency depth role. In the event, he asks for more, letting him walk in Free Agency would hardly hurt the trajectory of the organization.
Anywho, let’s redirect our focus back to Nic Claxton. The six-eleven big man drew some comparisons to Taj Gibson, Kevon Loony, and two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant during the draft process. Honestly, I don’t see particularly strong similarities between Claxton and the aforementioned professional hoopers.
However, I will say he bears a passing resemblance to Chris Bosh, and Claxton admitted to emulating the eleven-time All-Star during an interview with DraftExpress before being selected 31st overall. While it’s unlikely he matures into the franchise cornerstone Bosh was, his combination of physical tools and tangible skills grants him the ceiling to strive for a comparable impact.
Claxton has plenty of polishing to do before he can achieve that level of success, and that starts with taking off the training wheels and letting him learn on the fly. Typically, the playoffs wouldn’t be an ideal training ground for an inexperienced prospect, but without pressure to win, he could reap the advantages of facing top tier competition without the fear of failure.
This is all just a hypothetical scenario that hinges on the assumption the NBA will successfully reconvene without further hindrances. Be that as it may, Brooklyn has everything to gain and nothing to lose by investing valuable developmental minutes into their versatile rook. Nic Claxton is already shaping into a second-round steal, and if the Brooklyn Nets play their cards right, he could become so much more.