Thursday evening’s playoff rematch between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets shall be like many big-time NBA regular-season matchups — incomplete.
Kevin Durant is at present out with an MCL sprain, and Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable after struggling an adductor damage throughout the Celtics’ Wednesday evening victory towards the New Orleans Pelicans.
The sport will nonetheless have Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum — barring any last-minute modifications — however a participant who shall be price watching simply as a lot as the celebs is rising star Nic Claxton.
He’s at present taking part in the very best basketball of his four-season profession. Claxton is at present averaging 11.9 factors per sport and eight.3 rebounds, whereas additionally main the NBA in blocked pictures per sport (2.6) and subject objective proportion (73.8).
Of all of the issues that the Nets had off the court docket firstly of the season, their basketball weak point was thought of to be dimension and protection. The Nets let one among their finest defenders — Bruce Brown — stroll in free company. With Durant ageing, and an undersized backcourt, it was affordable to imagine that until Ben Simmons may guard each place on the identical time, the Nets would have a under common NBA protection.
For those who were dubious on the Nets’ defense prior to the start of this season, they forgot about Claxton. Throughout final season’s embarrassing first-round efficiency that resulted within the Nets getting swept by Celtcs, Claxton and a handful of different function gamers helped preserve these video games shut. He didn’t begin within the sequence, however nonetheless performed 24.5 minutes per sport. When he was on the ground the Nets’ defensive score improved by 9.4 factors per 100 possessions.
That sequence was merely a glimpse of Claxton’s versatile defensive arsenal. He’s now their beginning heart and glorious within the paint. Of gamers who’ve six or extra pictures tried towards 6 ft or much less from the rim towards them per sport, solely Jaren Jackson Jr. is holding opponents to a decrease field-goal proportion.
Claxton can also be nice on the perimeter. The Nets swap every thing on protection, and one cause they’re profitable in doing so is Claxton’s capability to protect perimeter gamers. A workforce that generally has Irving, Seth Curry, and Joe Harris on the ground on the identical time is at present eighth in defensive score. That doesn’t occur with out lengthy gamers who can swap. The Nets have a number of, and their finest could be Claxton.
His greatest weak point is his free throw taking pictures. Claxton shot 60-plus p.c from the road every of the final two months of the earlier common season, so there was hope that he was bettering. This season he’s taking pictures 45.9 p.c from the free-throw line. That offers the Nets two key contributors in him and Ben Simmons who shoot below 50 p.c from the charity stripe.
It hasn’t sunk the offense but. The Nets nonetheless have the third-best offensive score within the league. Regardless that Claxton is a poor NBA free-throw shooter, he’s nonetheless averaging a career-high in factors per sport. Certain he can catch the lob, however his total low-post sport is considerably higher than it was final season, which is why he’s main the league in field-goal proportion. In 2021-22 he made 14.3 p.c of his makes an attempt from 5 to 9 ft away from the rim. This season, he’s changing at 45.4 p.c from that distance.
With out Durant for a couple of weeks, will probably be a battle for the Nets to proceed their current surge up the Jap Convention standings. Nonetheless, with Claxton taking part in like a Most Improved Participant candidate, the Nets know that if they’re wholesome when the postseason arrives, they’ve pretty much as good an opportunity as any workforce within the East to make the NBA Finals.