Spencer Dinwiddie wasn’t shy with his praise of Nic Claxton when the rookie was coming up last season.
It was November 2019 — a lifetime ago, it seems — when Claxton made his NBA debut and Dinwiddie, the currently sidelined Nets guard, marveled at what he saw. "Nic is the second-most talented player on this team," he said then, behind only Kevin Durant.
Of course, a lot has changed since then: Kyrie Irving returned to the team, James Harden came in a trade, and Claxton, after showing a glimmer of what Dinwiddie saw, was sidelined by right knee tendinopathy. He has missed all of this season so far. While Claxton, who was chosen 31st overall in the 2019 draft, is far, far away from making good on his talent, Sunday was a step in the right direction because the 21-year-old center was listed as available. (There was little chance the Nets were going to play him against the Clippers Sunday night, coach Steve Nash said.)
Claxton played 15 games last year and averaged 2.9 rebounds, 4.4 points and 12.5 minutes. He did have bright spots, however, including back-to-back games in which he scored 14 and 15 points, along with six and four rebounds.
"I don’t know what I expect this early," Nash said of Claxton. "That’s a difficult thing. He’s played very little basketball in almost 20 months since he was drafted. The No. 1 thing is to protect his health, but he is cleared to play . . . He’s a versatile big who is pretty good with the ball, can dribble handoffs and pick and roll and catching in the half roll, making plays or finishing around the rim and hopefully his length and activity can be a factor defensively, but he’s still a developing player."
And though that’s true, there’s also no doubt that the Nets have lost significant depth at center since trading Jarrett Allen and have been looking to address that need. Sometimes, it means playing small. Most times, it means relying heavily on D’Andre Jordan to carry the load.
For that alone, it seems possible that the Nets will decide to keep Claxton, rather than relegating him to the G-League bubble. That doesn’t mean, though, that they’re going to rush the matter.
"He’s still a young guy who’s trying to, one, get his body to a place where it can withstand the demands of the NBA, and then, two, as a young player, get up to speed with his maturation process and adapting to the NBA and how to read and react and play at this level," Nash said. "He’s lost a lot of time, but he’s still got a long and bright future."
Durant on the mend
Nash said he didn’t have an update on Durant (hamstring) but doesn’t think his absence will be protracted. "I think he's progressing every day and it's really positive but I couldn't tell you when his return is," Nash said. "But I’ll reiterate that we're all optimistic and positive that he's improving at a rapid rate and will be back soon." He said the same about Iman Shumpert (hamstring): no update, but an imminent return.
The high road
Nash said that the Nets’ five-game West Coast trip has been pivotal in ironing out kinks and bringing his team closer together.
They’ve "played well, we’ve improved every game, we’ve learned something about ourselves, so it was very productive in a lot of ways, not just in winning," he said. "We played some good teams, we got some good challenges and we’ve responded. So, just to see them come together a little bit and for us to grow what we’re trying to do, making small improvements . . . they provided that on this trip, so it’s been really positive."