MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Who would have thought that Nic Claxton would have one of the most watched highlights of the Nets' young season?
Claxton’s defensive rebound, coast-to-coast dribble and Euro-step layup over Pascal Siakam in the Nets' win against the Raptors Friday went viral and brought his bench to their feet. Though the most exciting, it was far from the only contribution the Nets' 23-year-old has made in their first two games.
Claxton has embraced the challenge of being a fulltime starter. For the first time in his career, Claxton put together back-to-back double-doubles, recording 13 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to the Pelicans and 19 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in a win over the Raptors.
This week, he is looking to build on that fast start as he heads into the Nets’ two-game road trip against the Grizzlies and Bucks, the two best rebounding teams in the NBA last season. Claxton said Monday the Nets know that biggerteams are going to look to push them around.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously we're one of the most talented teams in the league, so where teams think they might have an advantage over us is just to out-physical us,” Claxton said several hours before the team tipped off against the Grizzlies. “But that's when all five guys that are on the basketball court just take that personal and make sure that we win that battle every game.”
The Nets like to talk about defense being a team effort, but they are looking for Claxton to play a leading role.
“I’m not here to say, ‘OK, Nic, now you got to add a step-back [jumper] to your game,’ ” Nets coach Steve Nash said after the win over the Raptors. “I’m more like, ‘Nic, captain us with [defensive] coverages.' Talking about making sure you know what coverage we’re in, making sure you’re low man when you need to be making sure you’re protecting the rim.”
It’s a role Claxton is ready to accept.
“I really want to be the anchor of the defense,” Claxton said, “and be one of the best defenders in the league night in and night out.”
The team has shown a lot of faith in their young big man since drafting him with the No. 31 overall pick in 2019. Injuries stalled Claxton’s development. Also, Claxton began his basketball career as a ballhandling guard before having a late growth spurt in high school. Nash mentioned earlier in the season that it may have taken some time for Claxton to grow into his 6-11 body.
When the Nets decided not to retain frontcourt players Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, the starting big man spot was Claxton’s to lose. With that knowledge, he put in extra time in the offseason, packing on 10 pounds of muscle.
Claxton’s biggest challenge has been free throws. Claxton shot 40% from the line last season and 4 of 22 during Brooklyn’s first-round series against the Celtics. He spent a lot of time in the offseason working on his free-throw shooting, but is 4-for-10 in the first two games.
Despite this, the Nets want him to attack the rim and Claxton is listening loud and clear.
“I want to go to the free-throw line 10-plus times a game,” Claxton said. “That’s something I embrace and know I need to work on, so I embrace the challenge. I have no fear. I go out there and I’m trying to finish every time I get an opportunity. That’s just who I am as a player.”