NEW ORLEANS — Given that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been selected for the All-Star Game a combined 19 years, no one blinked twice to see them prominently featured among the top vote-getters this week when the league released its All-Star voting list.
But Nic Claxton? The Nets starting center said Friday that he never expected to be listed among the top 10 Eastern Conference frontcourt players.
“It was a surprise to me,” Claxton said before the Nets game Friday night against the Pelicans. “It’s definitely a big deal, but it just makes you want to climb up on that list even higher. So I’ve got to stick with it and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Claxton was No. 9 on the list, notably one slot ahead of Jarrett Allen, the center the Nets traded to Cleveland as part of the James Harden deal in January of 2021.
The Nets named the 23-year-old Claxton as their fulltime starting center at the beginning of this season. Entering the season, there was a question whether he would be able to rise to the occasion, especially when it came to dealing with the NBA’s more muscle-bound men in the middle.
Claxton has responded by being the Nets’ most consistent defensive player this season, a performance that has won over many of the fans who were upset with the Allen trade.
He is by far their best rim protector. He’s had a career-high six blocks three times this season, includingmsix-block games against the Charlotte Hornets and San Antonio Spurs in the past week.
What’s more, Claxton leads the team with. 8.2 rebounds per game and can guard positions one through five, making him a key figure in the Nets’ switching defense.
Coach Jacque Vaughn said he thinks being recognized by the fans will give Claxton even more confidence.
“All these guys want to be celebrated in some fashion or form,” Vaughn said before Friday’s game. “Other people notice what he does for us on a nightly basis. It’s a little bit of pressure from a coaching standpoint and a team standpoint that now he has to live up to people seeing him and how he plays.
“And then there’s a responsibility to having your name on that list. Your play comes, it has to be every day, it is consistent. Those dudes on that list are pretty good and they answer the bill throughout the course of the year.”
After blocking six shots in a victory over the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 16, Claxton said he didn’t think he should be “in the conversation” for Defensive Player of the Year and didn’t think he was getting “the respect I deserve.”
Still, Claxton never expected to be getting All-Star Game level respect. He said it’s been fun getting texts from friends all over the country.
“For this year, it wasn’t [a goal],” he said. “But I mean, I’ve been given the minutes, I’ve been given the opportunity and I’ve been producing. And I feel like I can play even better; I can be more consistent. I can produce even more when I’m out there. So I’m not getting complacent. You know, that’s good that my name is on that list, but like I said, I still have a lot more work to do.”
Notes & quotes: Pelicans coach Willie Green played for Vaughn in Orlando for a year and said he’s not surprised that he has been able to send the Nets in the right direction since taking over for Steve Nash. Said Green: “Coach Jacque is doing great. [He had] a difficult situation to start the season but he along with everybody there has figured out how to navigate it and get the team winning and going. So I’m happy for him definitely.” . . . Though he coached him for only a year, Vaughn said he saw qualities in Green that would make him a good head coach. Said Vaughn: “He was extremely organized, very professional, team oriented, knew how to talk to different guys in locker room.”