Brooklyn Nets Training Camp: Nic Claxton Makes Big First Impression

DeAndre Jordan compared Nic Claxton to Chris Bosh. A day later, head coach Kenny Atkinson needed a moment to gather his thoughts on the Brooklyn rookie.

So, yeah, the 20-year-old rookie big man out of Georgia has made an impression over the first week of preseason.

“How should I say this? I’m very, very excited about Nic,” said Atkinson. “I think we all understand he’s got to get stronger and needs experience, but the raw talent, we really have something to work with there. I’m pleasantly, pleasantly surprised. That dates back to this offseason too. He’s got great instincts. His length, another 7-foot-3 wingspan guy that really protects the rim. He’s got great instincts. He’s got a motor. That’s hard to teach. You either have the motor or you don’t. He has the motor.”

The Nets nabbed Claxton with the 31st overall pick — first of the second round — in last June’s draft, and he’s the only rookie on this year’s roster. He quickly went to work with Brooklyn’s Summer League squad, playing in four games in Las Vegas and averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game while shooting 61 percent.

The 6-foot-11, 215-pounder is listed on the Nets roster as a forward/center, and Atkinson said the Nets have been using the youngster at both positions over the last week, citing his passing and rebounding as factors that allow to him to slide to a forward spot. Claxton said absorbing the two roles in his first training camp has not been a lot to handle.

“It’s pretty much positionless basketball, but with the five position, you’re setting a lot more on-ball screens,” said Claxton. “The four, you’re more on the perimeter. I’m just continuing to work on my craft so I’m able to play both positions. Being able to have that versatility is big.”

What has been an eye-opener for Claxton is getting used to the elevated talent level across the floor, and the challenge of stepping out in that perimeter role to handle dynamic guards like Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert.

“What’s big now is pick-and-roll defense,” said Claxton. “So certain tips on how to guard a pick-and-roll and how we want to guard it. Just being able to sink back and play in between the guard and the big man.”

While Claxton hasn’t been limited to playing center, he’s spent plenty of time working with and going up against Brooklyn’s formidable center duo of Jordan and Jarrett Allen.

“It’s been great,” said Claxton. “I definitely feel like they’re helping raise my game to another level. Just competing against them every day is great for me. I continue to do that and I know that I love to compete, so it’s good.”

Part of the focus early on is adding some muscle to Claxton’s lean frame.

“I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger,” said Claxton. “It’s not all just throwing a whole bunch of weight on me at one time, but working on my core strength, working on my legs, just overall strength, making sure I’m sticking to that. The sky’s the limit for me.”

Somebody else agrees, which brings us back to Jordan and Claxton and Bosh …

“I love Nic. Nic kind of reminds me about Chris Bosh a little bit,” said Jordan. “He’s left-handed, he’s skilled. He can go inside and out. I think the sky’s the limit for him once he learns the game and becomes more of a student of the game, gets his body into the game I think he’s gonna be great.”

“He didn’t tell me that,” said Claxton. “But coming from DJ, a vet like him that’s been here a while, that’s pretty high praise. Just gotta keep working, stick to it and be good.”

For two years in a row, first with Allen and then with Rodions Kurucs, the Nets had rookies upend their development plans by seizing NBA roles. The day after last June’s draft, GM Sean Marks said the team wasn’t going to rush to pick a lane for Claxton, and Atkinson echoed that on Wednesday.

“We don’t want to just throw him out there for 40 minutes until he’s ready physically,” said Atkinson. “But he could be a guy that surprises. I’ve said it before, ‘this young guy will spend a lot of time in the G League.’ I’m not going to say. You don’t know. He could surprise and be in Brooklyn. We’ll see about that.”

“I’m just going to hoop, wherever I am,” said Claxton. “Whether it’s Long Island or whether it’s in Brooklyn, I’m just going to do whatever I can to become better. At the end of the day, I know I’ll be here in the NBA to stay for a long time.”